(NaturalNews) The ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster has prompted European officials to set higher standards for their own nuclear programs that will hopefully prevent similar disasters from occurring down the road. The European Union (EU) has reportedly established new safety measures that will improve the resilience of existing nuclear power stations, as well as establish new safety guidelines for future ones.
Based on an analysis conducted by the European Commission, Europe's 132 operating nuclear power reactors currently require as much as 25 billion euros' worth of refurbishing and repairs in order to continue operating safety. All future nuclear plants will also require completely new designs in order to prevent the type of damage that occurred at Fukushima, which continues to spread radiation globally.
In order to prevent reactor cores from melting through buildings and contaminating groundwater, future nuclear plants in Europe will need to be designed in such a way as to prevent radiation leaks from escaping the interior. This is among the major flaws at Fukushima that have allowed radioactive cesium, tritium, strontium and various other harmful isotopes to pour into the air, the ground and the Pacific Ocean.
The new guidelines will also mandate improved communication protocols with the public in the event of a nuclear accident. And rather than allow government officials exclusive decision-making capacity with regard to the establishment of new nuclear plants, the public will now be given the opportunity to take part in the licensing approval process.
"We need to put all our efforts into making sure that the highest safety standards are followed in every single nuclear power plant across the EU," stated Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in a recent statement.
Nuclear operators in Europe will no longer get free pass to continue operating dangerous plants
Part of the licensing process for new reactors will require that renewable energy alternatives such as wind and solar be evaluated for cost and effectiveness. Similar rules will apply to existing nuclear energy facilities, which in order to gain licensing extensions will have to undergo a special risk-assessment process.
"[A]ll ageing nuclear power stations in Europe will have to be submitted to an environmental impact assessment before a licence renewal or the approval of a 10-year-periodic safety review," wrote Jan Haverkamp for The Ecologist.
"Until now, most European countries prolonged the lifetimes of their ageing nuclear reactors by only looking at whether prescribed safety standards are met."
While each individual European country will have more solidarity over its nuclear regulatory process under the new rules, EU member countries would agree to be governed by a peer-review process to take place at least every six years. The new guidelines also coincide with a cooperation agreement the EU signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last fall that strengthens emergency preparedness and response capabilities among the many nations.
"The Implementation Committee concluded that the potential impacts of extending the lifetime of a nuclear reactor apply to neighbouring and to distant countries," added Haverkamp. "An EIA [environmental impact assessment], therefore, has to be transboundary, and include distant countries that might be affected after, for instance, a severe nuclear accident."