It is in every Member State’s interest to participate in the security and risk survey of nuclear plants, stated the Hungarian Minister for National Development, Tamás Fellegi, after the extraordinary meeting of energy ministers in Brussels, on 21 March. The Hungarian Presidency convened the meeting to discuss the implications of the events in Japan and North Africa for energy markets and to align the related EU and Member State actions.
At the Council’s extraordinary meeting, the ministers emphasised that the case of Japan, a country hit by a natural disaster and Libya’s current civil war must be distinguished entirely. At the same time, both series of events have a significant impact on global energy markets and call for a proper response. The minister added that the European Union must provide humanitarian and technical aid to those countries in need.
After the discussion, Member State ministers adopted conclusions to manage the impacts of the Libyan and Japanese events on global energy markets and the EU’s energy supply. At the same time, Tamás Fellegi pointed out at the follow-up press briefing: “There is no room for complacency. We must closely monitor the situation of these markets”.
The situation in Fukushima
The ministers heard and discussed in detail the report of the EU Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, about the situation caused by the natural disaster in Japan. According to information by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on 11 March, the situation is still serious at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was damaged by the earthquake. Experts are measuring radiation values in 47 large Japanese cities, including the country’s capital Tokyo, where radioactivity has not exceeded the health risk level over the recent days.
The future of nuclear energy in Europe
In the discussion about the situation in Japan, Member States also reported about their measures adopted over the last few days. Ou of the EU’s 27 Member States, 14 are now operating nuclear plants, but in the wake of the events in Fukushima voices opposing nuclear energy have gained strength in several countries. Most Member States have started security checks in nuclear facilities. Tamás Fellegi welcomed the safety improvement actions of both national authorities and industrial players.
The EU Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, highlighted at the follow-up press briefing that in parallel with Germany’s dialogue about the closedown of nuclear plants, Poland and Italy, two countries that have not used nuclear energy so far, are actually planning to start new nuclear plants. According to the Commissioner, since the relevant decisions are within the powers of Member States, we primarily need “to minimise risks.” The Commissioner stated that every nuclear plant must be thoroughly checked and a set of criteria must be applied by taking into account the interests of countries not operating such facilities. “We need common standards in Europe,” emphasised the Commissioner.
Power plants to be checked later this year
“We must not keep anything secret from citizens or create a panic,” stressed Tamás Fellegi, at the follow-up press briefing. Member States approved the Presidency’s closing document aimed at subjecting nuclear plants in Europe to a “stress test”, a comprehensive danger and safety evaluation. The Presidency’s closing document also contains a number of possible criteria, formerly defined by experts in the Council’s nuclear working group.
According to the proposal, the stress test would include a seismic analysis at nuclear plants, to find out the likelihood of a possible earthquake and its potential effects. The checks would also survey the level of protection in a facility against floods or unexpected events, such as terrorist attacks. The test will also evaluate the type and age of nuclear plants, and the technical parameters of their cooling systems.
Tamás Fellegi added that Member States would be free to subject their facilities to the test, with its criteria only finalised after a full evaluation of the events in Japan. The minister added,“Member States have agreed on a comprehensive risk and safety analysis”. At the same time he believes that now it is not possible to define the consequences of the failure of a nuclear plant by using the test. The minister hopes that the tests will be carried out before the end of this year and that their evaluation will begin.
According to the Presidency’s closing document, it is essential in terms of safety to involve the EU’s neighbouring countries in a similar assessment.
Impacts on energy markets
The Council also discussed in detail the impacts of the events in Japan and Libya on energy markets. Although the military operations in Libya have only damaged a few pipelines and storage facilities, the North African country’s oil production has dropped to a third of its pre-war level. Oil export has stopped completely, which mostly affects Italy, France, Spain, and Germany. Still, this has not caused any major problem, as Saudi Arabia has increased its output instead. The situation is similar in natural gas import. Italy and Spain are the two biggest buyers of Libyan natural gas in Europe, but the two Member States can import the missing natural gas from other suppliers.
Due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the capacity of oil refineries has decreased by one-third, and the country is unable to access some of its reserves. Yet, experts say the Far Eastern energy market is capable of making up for the missing sources. The Commission’s evaluation states that even a combined effect of the two events wouldn’t jeopardise the global balance of oil markets and oil supply to the European Union. In addition, the Union’s reserves would be enough for over 120 days, in case of an emergency.
Overall, as Mr Fellegi said “The events in North Africa have not affected the energy supply of EU countries, and other sources of these states have been sufficiently supplied.” However, oil prices have been badly affected. Since the beginning of 2011, the world market price of crude oil has increased by about 20 per cent, which has been noticed by European consumers.