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Amended Nuclear Safety Directive

09 July 2014
by eub2 -- last modified 09 July 2014

The EU's Council of Ministers on 8 July adopted a new Nuclear Safety Directive. It provides more power and independence for national regulatory authorities, a high-level EU-wide safety objective, and a European system of peer reviews. It will also introduce periodic national safety assessments and on-site emergency preparedness and response arrangements. In addition, it increases transparency and improve education and training. The 2014 directive amends the one in force since 2009. It provides a stronger framework for EU nuclear safety, as called for by the EU Heads of State or Government following the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima.


What is new in the directive?

The amended Nuclear Safety Directive strengthens the nuclear safety framework of the EU. The amendment reinforces the provisions of the existing directive. It:

  • strengthens the role and independence of national regulatory authorities;
  • introduces a high-level EU-wide safety objective, emphasizing accident prevention and the avoidance of significant radioactive releases;
  • sets up a European system of topical peer reviews;
  • increases transparency on nuclear safety matters (information and cooperation obligations and involvement of the public);
  • provides for regular safety reassessments of nuclear installations to identify further safety improvements, taking into account, inter alia, ageing issues;
  • enhances accident management and on-site emergency preparedness and response arrangements and procedures;
  • includes requirements relating to human factors in nuclear safety (nuclear safety culture.


How are the role and independence of national regulatory authorities strengthened, and why?

Under the amended directive, the regulatory authorities will be given further independence from undue influence in their regulatory decision making, and will be provided with the appropriate means and competencies to properly carry out the responsibilities assigned to them.

In particular, the regulatory authorities will have:

  • sufficient legal powers
  • sufficient staffing with necessary qualifications, experience and expertise
  • sufficient financial resources for the proper discharge of its assigned responsibilities.

They should be involved in the definition of national nuclear safety requirements. Conflicts of interest must be prevented.

These new provisions are of fundamental importance because, in order to ensure a high level of nuclear safety, the regulatory authority has to have the ability to exercise its powers impartially, transparently and free from undue influence in its regulatory decision-making.

What is an EU-wide safety objective, and how does it work? Why is it important?

The directive requires the Member States to ensure that nuclear installations are designed, sited, constructed, commissioned, operated and decommissioned with the objective of preventing accidents and, should an accident occur, mitigating its consequences and avoiding radioactive releases. It means that at all stages of the lifecycle of a nuclear installation, the Member States must give first priority to nuclear safety: as regards new nuclear power plants, this objective is to be understood as calling for significant safety enhancements in the design of new reactors for which the state of the art knowledge and technology should be used, taking into account the latest international safety requirements; as for the existing plants, this objective should lead to the implementation of reasonably practicable safety improvements.

Why a safety objective rather than specific technical requirements?

Any fixed technical requirements can become quickly obsolete given the continuous improvements expected in safety over time. They could in addition become a disincentive for further development of a sound nuclear safety culture in Europe. Instead, the directive sets up a flexible and dynamic process.

What is a European topical peer review?

A European topical peer review, as foreseen by the amended Nuclear Safety Directive, is a cooperation and coordination mechanism amongst the EU Member States with the aim of building confidence, developing and exchanging experience and ensuring the common application of high nuclear safety standards.

The main benefits of the new peer review are:

  • In-depth examination of a specific technical feature;
  • Common understanding on nuclear safety issues while respecting national safety frameworks and responsibilities;
  • Translation of the safety objectives into concrete recommendations including a follow-up of actions;
  • Knowledge and experience sharing at European level;
  • Enhanced transparency on nuclear safety issues.

The introduction of topical peer reviews was largely inspired by the peer review process used during the nuclear stress tests undertaken after the Fukushima accident, whilst here the assessments will each time focus on different specific technical safety aspects.

How will peer reviews work?

Every six years, the Member States will organise a national assessment of a common specific nuclear safety topic. They will then submit the results of such an assessment for a peer review by other EU countries. The findings of the peer review will be translated into concrete technical recommendations and appropriate follow-up measures will be taken.

The first topical peer review will start in 2017, soon after the transposition deadline of the directive.

Who will pick the topics for the peer reviews? Based on what criteria?

Along with their competent regulatory authorities working together within the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), the Member States will choose a common topic to be examined (e.g. how systems allow safe depressurising of reactor containment in case of an accident).

The choice of the topic will be inspired by a broad range of sources, i.e. the safety reference levels issued by the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA), the operating experience feed-back, incidents and accidents and technological and scientific developments.

Moreover, Member States will also have to organise an international peer review of the installation, in case of an accident and major safety problems.

What will be the Commission's role in these peer reviews?

As during the nuclear stress tests, the Commission will participate as an observer in the peer reviews. It will also be involved through its membership in ENSREG as far as the latter is used, for instance for the selection of the topic or definition of a methodology.

Will the results of the peer reviews be public?

To ensure full transparency, reports on the findings of the peer reviews will be published.

How is transparency on nuclear safety increased?

According to the directive, the competent regulatory authority and the licence holders have to provide information on normal operating conditions of nuclear installations as well as prompt information in case of incidents and accidents.

Moreover, the public is given the opportunity to participate in the decision making process relating to licensing of nuclear installations.

What is a "culture of nuclear safety"?

The directive includes provisions to promote and enhance an effective nuclear safety culture which aims in particular at promoting the commitment at all levels of staff and management within an organisation to nuclear safety and its continuous improvement.

As such, these provisions complement the more technical aspects (nuclear safety objective, defence-in-depth concept, initial assessments and periodic safety reviews of nuclear installations) also introduced in the amended Directive.

When will the new requirements be implemented?

Member States have 3 years to transpose the directive into national legislation.

What else is the Commission doing to ensure nuclear safety in Europe and beyond?

The Commission is following up together with the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) the implementation of the technical improvements required by the stress tests report. It continues to monitor the implementation of other relevant legislation, e.g. in the areas of radiation protection and radioactive waste management. It also promotes research activities aiming at improving the safety of nuclear installations.

Outside the EU, the Commission continues to engage, in particular with EU neighbouring countries, and provides assistance to ensure that countries planning to start using nuclear energy will meet internationally recognized nuclear safety standards. In this context, the Commission cooperates closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

What is the role of nuclear energy in the current EU energy mix?

Nuclear provides 27% of electricity and more than half of low-carbon electricity produced in the EU. Recent developments (new build and lifetime extensions projects) indicate that it will remain an important energy source for several decades to come.

The Commission fully respects individual choices of each Member State for its energy mix and it also recognizes the role played by nuclear energy in the supply of electricity to the EU economy, citizens and industry. Today, more than 130 nuclear power plants in operation in 14 Member States provide electricity supply.

Revised Nuclear Safety Directive