Some older nuclear power plants in the EU may be forced to end operation earlier than previously planned following forthcoming 'stress tests', the head of the International Energy Agency said.
According to Reuters, IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka made the remarks as the European Commission prepared to outline a draft plan for stress testing the EU's nuclear power plants to guard against crises like that at Japan's stricken Fukushima plant.
"Some of the older nuclear power plants may be forced to retire earlier than they should be; it depends on the test itself," Tanaka told reporters in response to a question on the sidelines of an informal summit of EU energy ministers in Hungary on Tuesday.
Tanaka said the tests would have to be "severe enough" to ensure the safety of Europe's nuclear plants and to convince the public to accept nuclear energy, which he called a "very important" option in the European energy mix.
Asked if there is a risk stress tests will be created in such a way that no power plant would fail, Tanaka said: "It's among the European countries. It also depends on the individual location. It is very difficult to say how the tests will be designed and what the consequence of the tests will be."
European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the EU's executive expected to present a "strong draft" for stress testing the bloc's nuclear power generators, which he said account for 30 percent of the bloc's electricity production.
"We are well under way, and I'm sure there will be a strong draft for the stress tests," Oettinger told reporters on his arrival for the informal summit. "In the light of Japan, we need to control against earthquakes, tsunamis ... and so on."
Oettinger said the EU Commission would hold a meeting with national regulators next week, at which a proposal for the stress test criteria would be drawn up together with member states.
"We start (the tests) in June, and we have a clear order to prepare a report and analysis and propose what should be done to the European Council in December," Oettinger said.
"I'm sure that the stress test itself will be objective and strong on every level, the inside level at the companies and outside level at national regulators and with peer review on a European level," he said.
Oettinger said the question whether to include the possibility of airplane crashes in the tests remained open and that the issue would be also discussed at next week's meeting in Brussels - as would the exact composition and role of peer review teams.
"In parallel, we invited neighbour states, important states such as Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Armenia and Croatia to take part, and I will meet them at the end of May to speak about our criteria," Oettinger told a news conference later.
"We are working for the highest level of safety and security for existing nuclear power plants and for new nuclear power plants or those that are under construction," he said.
He said in the coming months the EU should integrate all relevant findings of an enquiry into the causes of the Fukushima disaster in its stress tests, including natural causes such as an earthquake and tsunami and the safety of cooling systems.
France, Germany and Spain have raised the possibility of closing any of Europe's 143 reactors that fail stress tests to be held this year.