European Union member states have agreed to hold earthquake stress tests of nuclear plants across the bloc in response to the crisis at Japan's Fukushima facility.
European energy ministers, senior national officials and industry representatives meeting in Brussels unanimously backed rapidly drawn plans to test all such installations to ensure their safety against earthquakes on the scale of that which hit Japan on 11 March, but also relating to threats from tsunamis, terrorism, disruptions of cooling systems, the integrity of operational systems, back-up systems, overall design and the possibility of power cuts.
Even heatwaves on the scale of that which hit France in 2003 will be among the imagined scenarios plants are subjected to, reported The Guardian.
EU energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, told reporters after the meeting, also attended by senior industry officials: "We want to look at safety in the light of the terrible events in Japan. I think the time has come for that."
Oettinger said that while nuclear plants could not be switched off overnight "nothing is irreplaceable", adding: "The unthinkable has occurred. Energy policy faces a fundamental new beginning."
No specific date is scheduled for the tests, which will employ "common, strict standards", but Brussels hopes they will be performed as soon as criteria and experts can be selected. Oettinger said this was likely to happen in the second half of this year.
Once performed, the test results will be published for the public to access, the commissioner said. The tests are likely to cost millions of euros but not billions, he added.
The tests will be voluntary as the EU does not have the legal power to enforce compliance. But Oettinger stressed: "There was no opposition [among minsters] to the idea"
Mentioning Turkey, Russia and Switzerland, Oettinger said the EU is hoping "partner countries" will also submit their plants to stress tests, adding that if they joined the EU scheme, they could participate in the selection of safety criteria and experts. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, as holder of the G20 group of nations' rotating presidency, has been tasked with pushing for international support for nuclear stress tests.