The European Commission has renewed its call for tougher EU nuclear safety standards after the closure, due to a radioactive leak, of the Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield in the UK. Nuclear safety is currently the responsibility of the member states. In its memorandum for the nuclear package, the Commission states that it is no longer possible to consider nuclear safety from a purely national perspective. It says that "only a common approach can guarantee that high nuclear safety standards will be maintained in an enlarged 25- or even 28-member Union".

In September 2004, the Commission referred a dispute over EU inspectors' access to the Sellafield nuclear plant to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) saying that the UK authorities have not complied with EU nuclear safety rules.?

Twenty tonnes of a highly dangerous mix of nuclear fuel has spilled into a steel container at Sellafield nuclear plant in the UK. The problem was, apparently, detected on 18 April 2005. British nuclear officials confirmed the closure on 9 May 2005, saying that no danger to the public exists.

"This incident shows once more that the EU should be allowed overall framework control of the safety of nuclear installations. It is not possible to continue to function efficiently in relation to the varying national legislation in force. In an area as sensitive as nuclear energy, it is essential to show the greatest form of transparency," said Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

The timing of the closure is critical for the British nuclear industry. The incident is likely to prompt renewed calls for the plant to be shut down permanently. Struggling to meet the UK's target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Tony Blair needs to decide on whether to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The managing director of the British Nuclear Group Sellafield, Barry Snelson: "Let me reassure people that the plant is in a safe and stable state."

The Green group in the European Parliament is demanding that the UK government launch an immediate inquiry into the radioactive leak and abandon plans to commission a 'new generation' of nuclear power stations. "This incident has served to close the plant for the foreseeable future � the UK government must take the next step and keep it closed for good," said Caroline Lucas, a British member of the EP's Environment Committee.

Sir Anthony Cleaver, chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA): "Our first priority is always safety, and we have been reassured that there is no immediate concern on that front. The failure clearly poses a significant problem, and illustrates the scale of the challenge the NDA faces as we seek to form a comprehensive and accurate picture of the assets and liabilities we inherited on April 1st 2005, and to plan our programme of decommissioning."


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