European nuclear companies join forces with unions to improve safety standards

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The Independent Online

British and French trade unions will push for improved terms for European nuclear workers at a EU-funded conference in Paris next month.

The GMB and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), France's leading unions, have invited major nuclear companies to attend. EDF Energy and RWE, the energy giants planning to lead the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK, are likely to take part.

A union source said: "The event should debate a charter about cross-European standards in nuclear. The trade unions want to ensure that employees are treated properly from construction phase through generation and decommissioning of sites."

EDF Energy has already been talking to the UK's biggest unions to remove any threat of strikes if and when it constructs new plants at Hinkley Point and Sizewell. However, the conference is likely to be overshadowed by discussions on pan-European nuclear safety standards following the Fukushima plant disaster in Japan.

The EU is planning to "stress test" the bloc's nuclear plants by the end of the year to ensure that they are tough enough to withstand major events, including tsunamis. EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger has already warned that a small number of plants will likely fail a test that simulates terrorist attacks, such as an aeroplane crash.

The conference is likely to see the big companies inform unions on details of these stress tests. In order to secure EU funding to host the event, the unions had to demonstrate that the conference would provide "social dialogue", a commission term used to promote constructive talks between industry and employee representatives.

Amec, the London listed engineer, and Areva, the French nuclear reactor builder, are among the other major nuclear employers likely to attend.