* EU leaders want highest nuclear power safety standards
* European reactors to have stress tests by year-end
* France says will close any plants that fail
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, March 25 European leaders agreed on
Friday to set the "highest standards" of safety for the nuclear
industry to guard against events like those unfolding at Japan's
stricken Fukushima plant.
They also called for Europe's neighbours to follow suit.
"We need to ensure that the highest nuclear safety standards
are respected," European Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso said after a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.
"We also have decided to put this very high in our
priorities when dealing with third countries, namely our
neighbours," he told a news briefing after the summit, which was
dominated by Europe's economic crisis and events in Libya.
The EU leaders agreed to put Europe's reactors through a
series of "stress tests" by the end of this year to evaluate
their resilience to crises.
And France sought to set an example by saying it would close
any reactors that failed.
"All the tests will be conducted in France, all the results
will be published and if the tests are not passed, we will
immediately take the consequences, and the only consequence
would be closure," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told
reporters after the summit meeting.
European governments have reacted swiftly to Japan's nuclear
crisis in the wake of its March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Germany quickly suspended operations at seven ageing nuclear
plants; Austria is demanding pan-European stress tests; and
Bulgaria has tightened restrictions on its Belene nuclear
project near a quake zone.
France, a major exporter of nuclear technology, has tuned
its sales pitch to the new political landscape, advocating the
safety aspects of its next generation reactors as it competes
for business on international markets. [ID:nLDE72M1ZS]
French reactor makers even hope that setting the toughest
possible standards might favour their technology over
(Additional reporting by Eva Dou and Julien Toyer; Editing
by Elizabeth Fullerton)