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Brussels - European Union stress tests on the safety of nuclear plants will be launched in June but will not include an assessment of terrorism threats, EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said Wednesday.
EU leaders decided to launch the exercise in March, in the wake of the nuclear meltdown scare that Japan faced at its Fukushima nuclear plant following a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
The tests are to check how plants could withstand earthquakes, flooding, breakdowns of cooling systems and an electrical black out, according to a deal announced by the European Commission and EU national nuclear energy regulators.
The possibility of an airplane crashing into a plant - be it because of human error or as a result of a terrorist act - is also due to be considered, officials said.
But 'when it comes to (other) terrorist actions the stress tests cannot lay down anything,' Oettinger told reporters in Brussels.
This was because in most EU countries nuclear regulators do not have competence over terrorism matters, the commissioner said. Terrorist threat assessments will be carried out later, after contact with relevant authorities is established, Oettinger added.
The issue had been controversial and delayed the agreement announced Wednesday. Some EU national authorities were wary of the commission's push for plants to be tested not just against natural disasters but also terrorist attacks.
Stress tests are to be carried out by nuclear plant operators, under the supervision of national regulators, with results to be verified by 'peer review' teams staffed by members of other EU national regulators.
The EU commission, on the basis of national reports to be submitted over the next six months, will report to EU leaders on the whole exercise in December and in spring 2012.
The national reports 'should be made available to the public ... provided that this does not jeopardize other interests such as, inter alia, security,' the agreed stress test methodology says.
Greenpeace, the environmental lobby, was critical.
'Europe looks set to get stress tests-lite for its aging nuclear power stations,' said its nuclear policy adviser Jan Haverkamp. 'Pro-nuclear governments from the UK, France and the Czech Republic are responsible for watering down the deal.'
Nuclear safety in the wake of Fukushima is one of the topics at this week's summit in Deauville, France, of the Group of 8 (G8) industrialized countries.
In reaction to the disaster, Germany mothballed its seven-oldest plants and ran checks on the remaining 10 - meaning that it has already largely complied with the EU stress tests. Italy, on the other hand, jettisoned plans to return to using nuclear energy.
EU officials said there are 143 active nuclear reactors in the bloc, operating in 14 member states: France, Spain, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria.