Andris Piebalgs Energy CommissionerThe Euratom Treaty and development of the Nuclear Industry Keynote speech at the "International Nuclear Law Association" CongressBrussels, 3 October 2007

Monday, October 8 2007


Andris Piebalgs

Energy Commissioner

The Euratom Treaty and development of the Nuclear Industry

Keynote speech at the "International Nuclear Law Association" Congress

Brussels, 3 October 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first thank the organising Committee for this opportunity to address this 2007 edition of the "International Nuclear Law Association" Congress. This is a very symbolic year as it coincides with the jubilee of the Euratom Treaty. The 50 th anniversary combined with the context of this Congress and of this very session, gives me a good opportunity to take some perspective and share with you a few thoughts on how the Commission views Euratom's realisations and legislative evolution as well as its future perspectives and overall coherence.

Since its outset, the civilian use of nuclear energy in the European Union has taken place in the framework given by the Euratom Treaty. Fifty years of safe use of nuclear energy in the EU can be regarded as very positive. The Treaty has enabled the Community to carry out important activities in a sector that is strategic for the energy supply for the EU, and to foster technological development.

The European Commission is well aware of the renewed interest for nuclear energy we witness today both at EU and international levels. The Commission is therefore particularly attentive to the benefits, but also to the challenges posed by the developments in nuclear energy. Nuclear energy increases our energy independence and our security of supplies, and contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions, but it is also still confronted to a number of outstanding issues that need to be tackled and solved.

So, what is the specific nature of the Euratom Treaty within the EU Legal order?

The Euratom Treaty is an " ad hoc " primary law instrument focusing on a specific energy sector, atomic energy. It is part of the first pillar of the EU system. When taken together with the then European Coal and Steel Treaty, it shows that the EU finds its roots notably in the energy field. Euratom contains specific provisions and ideas that were very innovative at the time, and still are to a certain extent. Just to name but a few, Euratom introduced the concept of "research programs" and of "joint undertakings" into Community Law, has introduced Euratom loans in 1977, has set up a body of safeguards inspectors with wide-ranging duties, which paved the way for Community inspectorates in other fields of EU action.

Since 1957, no major changes have been made to the Euratom Treaty. Adjustments have only been on institutional and procedural provisions to take account of formal changes in the Communities. However, the substantive context in which the Treaty entered into force has never stopped evolving and continues to give rise to new questions, and sometimes to new answers. As part of its responsibilities, the Commission has played a leading role by proposing an evolving application of the Treaty, taking into account the wider needs of the European Union, of its countries, of its industry and of its civil society. The Treaty has thus had a concrete impact not only on the nuclear power cycle and research, but has also been instrumental to concrete activities concerning citizens in their daily lives, like the medical applications of radioactive substances. Euratom is thus a Treaty that concerns the everyday life of our populations.

Maybe more than in some other areas, the importance of legal certainty and predictability is a crucial issue for all aspects of nuclear. The Commission's mandate, as the guardian of Treaties, is to implement the objectives and ensure compliance with the Treaty provisions, which it has done the best it could. The European Court of Justice has also been instrumental in interpreting the Treaty in a balanced way.

Now, how will Euratom look in the future?

The draft Constitutional Treaty provided for some changes that needed to be made to the Euratom Treaty in a Protocol which was annexed to the Constitution. These changes were limited to adaptations to take account of the new rules established by the Constitution.

More recently, the Brussels European Council, which reached a political agreement on the Reform Treaty last June, did not wish to modify the Euratom Treaty. The amendments that are expected to be made, via Protocols annexed to the Reform Treaty, are only of a technical nature. We expect therefore the Euratom Treaty to be largely unchanged, and to continue regulating the use of nuclear energy for the coming years.

Before illustrating some of the most recent developments and perspectives, let me say a few words on the main areas covered by the Treaty, highlighting the main fields of action of the Euratom Treaty.

Research and Development

The Community contributes to scientific progress through its support for research and innovation. The Euratom Seventh Research Framework Programme (2007-2011) has a budget of around EUR 2,750 million. A third is earmarked for nuclear fission research. The main focus is on the safe development and use of fission reactor systems, the management of radioactive waste, radiation protection as well as safety and security related to non-proliferation.

The remaining two thirds of the budget are dedicated to research in the field of fusion energy. The European Union, since 1978 has made an important contribution to the advances in fusion energy and is the lead partner in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project developed with 6 other partners. Since 2003, the Community has also been supporting research for the next generation of fission reactors, via the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which promises an enhanced level of safety and security resistance.

No later than a fortnight ago, the Commission has just launched the "Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform", as part of EU efforts to maximise R&D and progress in the sector.

Radiation Protection

A substantial body of Community legislation has been developed to provide a high level protection of health of workers and the public, based on the latest available scientific knowledge, thanks to the help of a group of scientific experts. As in other areas of nuclear, radiation protection is an area that shows the intimate link between science and the law, which is a real specificity of nuclear energy, more than in any of the other energy sources.

The basic radiation protection standards today comprise a coherent set of more than twenty different instruments, including six directives. These lay down in particular strict obligations concerning the authorisation of practices, surveillance of the working conditions and environment of exposed workers, including radiation protection, medical surveillance, training and information for workers. The basic standards also cover all situations which might lead to exposure of the general public.

In the radiation protection area, an important step towards simplification of the "acquis" is the future consolidation of five Euratom Directives on radiation protection, including a substantial revision of the Basic Safety Standards Directive. This consolidation will promote the coherence of definitions and requirements in all Directives and the association of specific and general requirements, taking into account the latest international recommendations. While the latter do not necessarily require major changes in regulatory requirements, we believe they offer a much more coherent and understandable framework. The Commission is also closely involved in the revision of the Inter-Agency Basic Safety Standards, in order to harmonise at least the Euratom and the IAEA standards.

Protection of the Workers and the General Public

The protection of the workers and the general public has also been a cornerstone of the Treaty. Member States are required to send to the Commission general information about any plans for the disposal of radioactive waste so as to determine their potential impact on the air, water or soil of any other Member States. National authorities also have to establish a system for the continuous monitoring of the level of radioactivity in their territory and to send the monitoring data to the Commission. The Commission systematically checks the operation and efficiency of the national monitoring facilities. In the last three years 25 verification visits have been carried out, and the results are made public via the Commission web site.

A significant turning point in the development of the legal standing of the Euratom Treaty was triggered by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. This accident constituted a turning point in many aspects. It raised awareness, and immediately prompted a unanimous international response, which led to the adoption of important international conventions in the field of nuclear safety and security, to which the Community is party. The EU also strengthened the Community framework for action in the event of radiological emergencies or nuclear accidents by laying down clear obligations for the Member States and operators as regards the establishment of emergency plans for information of the general public. A Community arrangement for the urgent exchange of information with the Member States, which operates round-the-clock, was also established.

Development of the nuclear Industry

The Euratom Treaty confers on the Community a number of different powers to coordinate and focus investments in the nuclear field.

To this end, the Commission is required to publish an Illustrative Nuclear Programme for the Community (PINC in its French acronym) at regular intervals. The latest Communication reviews the investments in nuclear energy since 1997 and provides a description of the economics of nuclear power generation, its impact on the overall EU energy mix as well as its conditions for public and political acceptance. I am pleased to announce that the final version of the PINC should normally be adopted tomorrow!

Since 1957, more than 200 investment plans by nuclear operators have been notified and received a point of view by the Commission. They span from regular maintenance, such as the replacement of equipment in existing installations, to major investments, including the construction of new reactors.

The instrument of Euratom loans, introduced in 1977, has also made it possible to contribute to the financing of different stages of nuclear activities. Between 1977 and 1994, 87 loans for nuclear developments were granted. Since 1994, loans were granted to improve the safety, security and efficiency of nuclear power stations existing or under construction in Central and Eastern European non-member countries.

Supply of nuclear fuels

The Community has a direct responsibility for ensuring that all users receive regular and equitable supplies of uranium ore and nuclear fuels. The Euratom Supply Agency (ESA) was created back in 1960 under the Treaty to be the central and sole trader of nuclear materials in the Community in order to channel and balance supply and demand. It has its own legal personality and financial autonomy and it is supervised by the Commission. With the recent renewed interest about nuclear energy around the globe, the Agency is expected to play a more important role in securing supplies in nuclear materials in the future. This is also an area in which the Commission is actively working on, and which may need to evolve further in the future. The new statutes and financial aspects of the Supply Agency are under discussion in the European Parliament and the Council.

Nuclear Safeguards and non proliferation of nuclear materials

Safeguards and non proliferation are of utmost importance for the obvious reasons we read every day in the headlines. And one can say that this has been a success story in the EU. Safeguards ensure that nuclear materials for civilian use within the territory of the Community, from the moment they are extracted or imported, are not diverted from their intended uses.

Equally important, they ensure that provisions relating to supply and any particular safeguarding obligations assumed by the Community under an agreement concluded with a third State or an international organisation are complied with. For the last 50 years the Commission has ensured that operators fulfil their obligations.

The Commission adopted in 2004 new principles for safeguards approaches. Since then, consultations have been carried out with all stakeholders, and safeguards verifications moved from a system being based on purely quantitative objectives to a qualitative system, relying to a large extent on an audit methodology, showing more flexibility and capability of adapting to evolving circumstances. The most recent Safeguards Regulation, adopted in March 2005, took into account the last EU enlargements, changes in nuclear industry technology and information technology. It will introduce in particular new provisions concerning declarations on site and on waste in line with the reporting requirements introduced at IAEA level.

Let me also emphasise that physical protection and nuclear material safeguards play a key role, complementary to nuclear safety and security. Euratom has participated - as a contracting party - in the last review of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM). The amended Convention is extended to protect all nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage and transport. It provides for increased co-operation between States on rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offences.

International cooperation and agreements

The Treaty has permitted the Community to foster progress in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy with third countries and international organisations.

The Community has signed cooperation agreements on peaceful uses of nuclear energy with a number of third countries, starting with supplier countries, the most recent of which include Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Japan and Kazakhstan. Research agreements have also been signed with a number of countries (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the USA).

In line with its continued involvement on the safety of nuclear installations, the Euratom Community has also given its firm commitment at international level by becoming a party to the main international agreements in the nuclear field.

Control of the implementation of the Treaty and its derived legislation

On the downstream aspects, the Commission has also made use of the coercive instruments provided for in the Treaty where infringements have been detected by bringing proceedings directly against the Member State concerned for failure to fulfil an obligation. The Treaty notably provides for procedures speeding up the normal infringement procedure and for taking measures directly against operators, such as issuing a warning or even placing the undertaking under temporary administration. Some cases are pending as safety and the health of populations is something one cannot compromise on.

Now let me turn to the future of nuclear energy, and the most recent legislative actions and initiatives and the Euratom Treaty.

Nuclear energy is a fact today in the EU. It generates a third of our electricity. Provided an adequate level of safety and security is ensured, I reckon that nuclear energy will continue to play an important role in the EU energy mix. But this should go hand in hand with a continued commitment in research and promotion of technological developments, aimed at further enhancing the safety and security aspects.

Therefore, the operation of existing installations, as well as the subsequent decommissioning, must comply with the highest safety standards, and both radioactive waste and spent fuels should be managed safely and without impact to the environment. This is a decisive point if one wants to increase the public acceptance of nuclear energy.

Although the Community has been consistently active in promoting nuclear safety, as yet there is no Community legal framework establishing common safety standards for the design, construction and operation of nuclear reactors in the EU. It is reassuring to see that the Commission is not alone, and that the European Parliament - in an own-initiative report of March 2007 on the 50 years of Euratom (the "Maldeikis Report") - supports the Commission's approach to nuclear safety.

The current situation and context is why, last July, the Commission has adopted a Decision creating a " High Level Group on Safety and Wastes". It will be composed of senior national regulators and safety organisations to cross-fertilise, and prepare the ground for the establishment of an improved Community framework for nuclear safety and radioactive waste management. They should build on the extensive experience of the Member States' authorities and of useful groups such as WENRA. The Nuclear Forum, which the Commission is also setting up as a complement to the High Level Group, could also be instrumental in discussing this issue.

The Commission is confident that this Group will swiftly identify relevant safety issues, ensure coherent action by the Member States' authorities and, as the case may be, make recommendations on what course of action should be taken at EU level. The high level of representation expected from all EU countries, be they users of not of nuclear energy, should demystify some outstanding issues, and increase confidence in the levels of safety currently implemented in European facilities.

The High Level Group will also include the decommissioning of nuclear installations as well as the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Ageing nuclear power plants are of serious concern, especially those of old design that exist in several of the new Member States.

The high level of nuclear safety in the enlarged European Union therefore requires ensuring the safe closure and decommissioning of those nuclear reactors at the end of their lifetime, or for which safety cannot be upgraded at an appropriate high level in an economical manner. As part of the respective Accession treaties, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia agreed to close a number of Nuclear Power plants by dates specified in their Accession treaties.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of the importance the Commission attaches to guarantee that adequate financial resources are made available for the safe decommissioning of nuclear facilities at the end of their operation life. At the end of 2006 the Commission issued a recommendation, on the basis of the Euratom Treaty, on the financing of decommissioning. The Recommendation requests Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure that financial resources are set aside and are available and sufficient to cover the cost of the decommissioning when the time comes, in a complete transparent way to ensure fair competition on the internal electricity market in Europe.

On Radioactive waste and spent fuel, t he sustainable management thereof is fundamental to nuclear safety. It is the one issue which poses the biggest problem to public acceptance: long-lived high level waste requires safe confinement for very long time spans. That means that our actions today will be a legacy to our children. The Commission would like all Member States to adopt a sound national waste management programme for all forms of radioactive waste.

The transport of radioactive materials has also attracted the interest of the public and the media and it is one of the major fears of European citizens concerning radioactive waste. The need of transparency, informing and communicating to the public safety issues regarding the transport of radioactive materials, is a major issue. At present, Community legislation already covers the trans-boundary movement as well as import and export of radioactive waste management. The relevant Euratom Directive, which had established a system of control and prior authorisation for shipments of radioactive waste, has been recently replaced by a new directive, which extends the scope to spent fuel, aims at simplifying procedures and reducing uncertainty for intra community shipments. The new Directive, once in force, will harmonise EURATOM legislation with the provisions existing at the IAEA level.

The legal framework covering this issue is rather complex, since it is based both on International Agreements and on Community regulations, the latter stemming from both the EC and Euratom Treaties. In this context, the Commission intends to launch an impact assessment to explore how best to simplify the existing legislative framework.

Finally, on Nuclear liability, a s noted by the European Economic and Social Committee in its Opinion on the Commission's Nuclear Illustrative Programme, a harmonized liability scheme, including a mechanism to ensure the availability of funds in the event of damage caused by a nuclear accident is essential to the long-term acceptability of nuclear power. Third party liability for nuclear damage does also fall within the scope of the Euratom Treaty.

In its early days, the Community chose to rely on the OECD's Paris Convention on nuclear liability as a common basis of an insurance and compensation regime in its Member States. Since the 2004 enlargement, many new Member States rely on the IAEA's Vienna Convention for their nuclear liability regimes.

The co-existence of two major third party nuclear liability regimes with several sub-regimes does not guarantee the same level of compensation for nuclear damage everywhere within the Community. Therefore, before the end of the year, the Commission will undertake an impact assessment to explore the range of possible solutions and prepare a proposal to the Council.


Ladies and Gentleman,

To conclude, I would like to leave you with six main messages:

Nuclear is an important component of the EU energy policy mix today. It can only remain so provided that notably safety, security and wastes aspects are managed and ensured at the highest levels;

The Commission, as the guardian of the Treaties, will continue to do everything it can to ensure that all provisions and obligations are fully complied with. The Euratom Treaty is meant to continue and constitutes a solid basis for future legislative actions in the nuclear domain. It provides legal certainty, a crucial element for industry and populations;

Binding legislation will allow the nuclear industry in the EU to develop within a stable legal framework, ensuring equal treatment for all nuclear operators;

We also need to reinforce the coherence of legislative actions and policies in the international arena while taking due account of the related trade, competition, environmental and non-proliferation issues as provided by the Treaty;

In a situation of renewed interest in nuclear energy globally, the nuclear industry and administrations have an interest to take further steps to improve transparency, since it improves confidence and public acceptance of safe development of nuclear energy;

The Commission will continue to co-operate and dialogue with all stakeholders at the international level to maximise improvements at large in the nuclear sector. This paves the way for an ever more secure and transparent nuclear energy in the EU, and beyond.

Thank you for your attention.