EU To Stress Test The Bloc's Nuclear Reactors

The tragic events in Japan are causing widespread concern in Europe about the safety of nuclear power. The European Union is trying to forge a joint response, but with attitudes sharply differing across the member states, it is proving a difficult task.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Workers at the damaged nuclear power plant in Japan are still struggling to bring things under control, and as you probably know, this has sparked a wider debate about nuclear power.

In Europe, where we're going next, opponents of nuclear power point to the crisis in Japan and say it should be a warning.

From Brussels, Teri Schultz reports that the EU plans to stress test its more than 140 nuclear reactors.

TERI SCHULTZ: The stress tests are weeks away at best, but the stress is already in high gear.

Mr. GUNTHER OETTINGER (Energy Commissioner, European Union): (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger snapped at European parliamentarians peppering him with questions about the very preliminary plans for evaluations of nuclear facilities. He's heard here through an interpreter.

Mr. OETTINGER: (Foreign language spoken) (Through Translator) Sorry, but if you think that you can do these stress tests, then feel free. Very - good luck with it.

SCHULTZ: The EU as a whole gets about 30 percent of its energy from nuclear power in France, that figure is 80 percent.

The head of the European parliament's Environment Committee, Jo Leinen, worries the EU could face a similar crisis to Japan's.

Mr. JO LEINEN (Chairman, European Parliament's Environment Committee): We have no tsunami but we can have other external shocks like terrorist-attacks or cyber-attacks and I'm not sure that all of our nuclear power stations really correspond to the newest standards of security that we demand.

SCHULTZ: Oettinger actually predicts some installations won't pass the tests, which will simulate deliberate manmade threats, natural disasters, accidents such as air crashes and mechanical failures.

Johannes Theyssen, CEO of German utility giant, EON AG, has more faith in the industry.

Mr. JOHANNES THEYSSEN (CEO, EON AG): All nuclear installations across Europe are meeting the applicable standards.

SCHULTZ: But even Theyssen even says Japan's plight proves that's no longer good enough. His company is among those affected by the German government's temporary closure of the country's seven oldest reactors while a safety probe is conducted.

Mr. THEYSSEN: There are lessons to be learned, without any doubt. We cannot just rely on present safety standards; they will need to be improved.

SCHULTZ: Markets are providing additional incentive for speedy upgrades. EON AG was among the stocks taking a tumble last week when Germany announced the nuclear shutdown. EU officials hope improvements can already be identified and implemented by the second half of this year.

For NPR News, I'm Terri Schultz in Brussels.

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