A revision of the European nuclear safety directive that calls for national assessments every six years that are peer-reviewed, and a safety objective to wholly prevent radioactive releases has been approved by the Council of Europe.

Member states now have three years to transpose the directive into national legislation.

The first national assessment will take place in 2017. A topic will be chosen by member states and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG). In the process, the European Commission will act as an observer, and work through WENRA, the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association. The peer reviews will be published.

The directive also 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.

For operating plants, this objective should lead to implement ‘reasonably practicable’ safety improvements. It is much stricter for new-build, according to a questions-and-answers document: "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."

The directive tells member governments to give further independence to regulators, including sufficient legal powers, staffing and financing. "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," according to the document.

The text of the directive and more information is available on http://ec.europa.eu/energy/nuclear/safety/safety_en.htm