Britain clashes with Brussels over threat to nuclear safety

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The Independent Online

The safety of Britain's nuclear facilities could be threatened by new European rules, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

The safety of Britain's nuclear facilities could be threatened by new European rules, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

Brussels wants to establish a Europe-wide nuclear regulator to ensure all member states' power stations meet common safety standards. But the DTI is worried this will introduce unnecessary red tape and divert resources away from Britain's own nuclear inspectors.

In its official response to the proposals, the DTI said: "The implementation of a further tier of regulation at EU level would increase the workload of the operators and ... the regulators and could lead to a reduction in safety." It added that a European regulator may also undermine the "global safety regime" under the International Atomic Energy Agency, "and therefore lead to a lower level of safety than prevails at present".

The DTI is understood to have come to this view after consulting the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

The HSE refused to comment, but a DTI spokesman said: "The European proposals would blur who is responsible for what, whether it is the national regulator or the European one. It would take the expertise and financial resources away from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate."

The Commission maintains that a new regulator is needed to guarantee common safety standards. It believes this is particularly important as the next proposed enlargement of the European Union will include countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovakia, which operate Soviet-designed nuclear reactors. "The public needs to be reassured that the highest levels of nuclear safety are being achieved across the EU," said the Commission.

The disagreement comes at a time when relations over nuclear power between Britain and the Commission have hit a low. Last week the Commission ordered Britain to clean up more than a ton of radioactive waste at Sellafield. And it attacked BNFL, which operates Sella-field, for denying European inspectors proper access to the facility and for failing to fully account for the waste material.

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