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24.11.2014

Agreement on a European approach for nuclear emergency planning

The heads of the national radiation and nuclear safety regulators in Europe today published the first Europe-wide approach to dealing with severe nuclear accidents. The approach was developed at the German Environment Ministry’s initiative. It provides a standardised scheme for assessing the state of a nuclear facility and makes recommendations on the cross-border coordination of early countermeasures in the event of a nuclear emergency.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks welcomed the decision as an important step towards common standards. "Radioactivity doesn’t stop at borders. Several foreign nuclear power plants are located close to the German border. This is why a common approach also helps to increase the level of protection provided to the German public. I therefore welcome the completion of a common European approach to dealing with severe nuclear accidents." 

A joint Task Force developed the approach over the last few months. On the basis of lessons learned from the Fukushima accident, 21 experts on nuclear safety, emergency planning and radiological protection from 14 countries set up a robust scheme for assessing the state of a damaged nuclear power plant and made recommendations on how to plan for countermeasures to protect the public during the early phase of a severe accident. The experts are members of HERCA (Heads of the European Radiological Protection Competent Authorities) and WENRA (Western European Nuclear Regulator’s Association).

Efficient emergency response mechanisms have been in place in all European countries for some years now. On the basis of a variety of plant parameters in combination with numerical weather predictions, it is possible to accurately forecast which actions are required at what place to protect the public from harm. Adverse conditions, however, can interrupt the exchange of information necessary for this type of forecast and assessment, as became evident during the triple Fukushima disaster. This is the kind of – highly unlikely – situation the new assessment scheme has been designed for. Using the scheme, a robust classification can be made on the basis of a very limited number of plant and weather parameters, all of which are available even in worst-case scenarios.

The assessment scheme is deliberately limited to the primary countermeasures: evacuation, sheltering and the administration of stable iodine prophylaxis.

  • Within a radius of 5km around a nuclear power plant, competent authorities would be required to plan for evacuation. There should be an adequate strategy for extending the radius to up to 20km. 
  • Within a radius of 20km, planning arrangements should cover sheltering and the administration of stable iodine prophylaxis. There should be an adequate strategy for extending the radius to 100km.
These planning zones correspond largely to the recommendations issued earlier this year by the German Radiation Protection Commission (SSK), which are currently being implemented by Germany’s competent authorities. The German approach to stable iodine prophylaxis goes beyond the new European standard inasmuch as this action is to be planned for children, young adults and pregnant women throughout the country, not only within a radius of 100km around nuclear power plants.  Considering the safety level of European nuclear power plants and the improvements made after the Fukushima accident, HERCA and WENRA come to the explicit conclusion that in Europe the probability of a severe accident on the scale of Fukushima, requiring evacuation within a radius of 20km and sheltering combined with the intake of stable iodine within a radius of 100km, is very low.
24.11.2014 | Pressreport No. 236/14 | Radiological Protection