European legal texts


Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Treaty), Articles 40 – 52 (investment, joint undertakings and supplies) and 92 – 99 (nuclear common market).


To tackle the general shortage of ‘conventional’ energy in the 1950s, the six founding Member States looked to nuclear energy as a means of achieving energy independence. Since the costs of investing in nuclear energy could not be met by individual countries, the founding Member States joined together to form the European Atomic Energy Community. The general objective of the Euratom Treaty is to contribute to the formation and development of Europe’s nuclear industries, so that all the Member States can benefit from the development of atomic energy, and to ensure security of supply. At the same time, the Treaty guarantees high safety standards for the public and prevents nuclear materials intended principally for civilian use from being diverted to military use. Euratom’s powers are limited to peaceful civil uses of nuclear energy.


A.Radiation protection

Exposure to ionising radiation represents a significant danger for human health (public, workers of medical, industrial and nuclear sectors) and the environment. The EU has adopted over time a patchwork of legislation in the area of radiation protection, which has lately been updated and simplified. Updating was necessary because legislation in place did not fully reflect scientific progress and lacked consistency. Another reason was that natural radiation sources and the protection of the environment were not fully addressed. Council Directive 96/29/Euratom of 13 May 1996 set out basic safety standards for the protection of the health of workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation. In May 2012, the European Commission proposed a new directive updating the basic safety standards (COM(2012) 0242) which is currently being considered by the Council and the European Parliament. It simplifies European legislation by replacing five directives. Binding requirements are introduced for protection against indoor radon, use of building materials and environmental impact assessment of discharges of radioactive effluents from nuclear installations. A separate Council directive for monitoring radioactive substances in water intended for human consumption, proposed by the Commission in March 2012 (COM(2012) 0147), is in the final stage of adoption. It was approved by the Parliament in plenary in March 2013 (T7-0068/2013).

The Council regulation ‘laying down maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination of foodstuffs and of feeding stuffs following a nuclear accident or any other case of radiological emergency’ proposed by the Commission in 2010 (COM(2010) 0184) is still awaiting final decision. The Parliament approved an amended version of the legislation (T7-0055/2011) based on a compromise reached with the Council.

B.Transport of radioactive substances and waste

Council Regulation (Euratom) No 1493/93 of 8 June 1993 introduced a Community system for the declaration of shipments of radioactive substances between Member States, to ensure that the competent authorities concerned receive the same level of information concerning radiation protection control as before 1993, when border controls were still in place. In 2012, the Commission published a proposal for a regulation establishing a single European system for the registration of carriers of radioactive materials (COM(2012) 0561). This regulation replaces the reporting and authorisation systems in Member States put in place to implement Council Directive 96/29/Euratom on basic safety standards.

A system of prior authorisation for shipments of radioactive waste was established in the EU in 1992 and modified significantly in 2006. Council Directive 2006/117/Euratom of 20 November 2006 on the supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel aims to guarantee an adequate level of protection to the population from such shipments. The directive sets out and lists a number of strict criteria, definitions and procedures that need to be applied when transporting radioactive waste and spent fuel, for intra- and extra-Community shipments. In April 2013, the Commission issued the first report on the application of the 2006 directive in the Member States in the years 2008-2011.

C.Waste management

An EU legal framework for waste management in Europe was set out in 2011 with the adoption of a Council directive on the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel (2011/70/Euratom). A close monitoring of national programmes for the construction and management of final repositories is foreseen, as well as legally-binding safety standards. Member States have to submit the first report on the implementation of their national programmes in 2015. By the end of 2013, the Commission plans to issue recommendations on the collection, storage, reporting and preservation of radioactive waste data.

D.Safeguarding nuclear materials

Several regulations were adopted over time and amended in order to establish a system of safeguards ensuring that nuclear materials are used only for the purposes declared by their users and that international obligations are complied with (Commission Regulation (Euratom) No 302/2005). These safeguards cover the entire nuclear fuel cycle, from the extraction of nuclear materials in the Member States, or their importation from third countries, to exportation outside the EU. The Commission is responsible for controlling civil nuclear material within the EU.

E.Safety of nuclear installations

With the Council directive on nuclear safety (2009/71/Euratom), a common EU legal framework for the safety of nuclear power plants was established. Member States are required to establish national frameworks with regard to nuclear safety requirements, licensing of nuclear power plants, supervision and enforcement. The directive makes the safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) partially legally binding and enforceable in the EU. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, the March 2011 European Council called for a comprehensive risk and safety assessments of all EU nuclear power plants. The Commission was put in charge of carrying out voluntary stress tests for the EU’s 143 nuclear power reactors with the aim to assess the safety and robustness of nuclear installations in case of extreme natural events (flood and earthquakes). In October 2012, the Commission released its communication on the results of the stress tests (COM(2012) 571) which gave an overall positive assessment of current European safety standards but highlighted the need for further upgrades in order to ensure better consistency among Member States and catch up with international best practices. The Parliament adopted in March 2013 a resolution assessing the limits of the stress tests (T7-0089/2013). The Commission will present later in the year 2013 two legislative proposals that draw on the stress tests’ results: a proposal to revise the nuclear safety directive and a proposal for a directive on nuclear insurance and liability in order to improve victim compensation in case of nuclear accidents. A non-binding communication on nuclear off-site emergency preparedness and response to nuclear disasters in Europe will also be issued in 2013 with the aim to increase the protection of population living near nuclear power plants.

F.Nuclear research and training activities

Funding of nuclear research in Europe is provided through multiannual framework programmes. The Seventh Framework Programme for Euratom (FP7 Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities was adopted by Council Decisions 2006/970/Euratom and 2006/977/Euratom. The amount dedicated to FP7 Euratom during the period 2007-2011 was EUR 2 751 million and divided between two specific programmes: one covering indirect actions in fusion energy research (EUR 1 947 million), as well as nuclear fission and radiation protection (EUR 287 million); the other one covering direct actions undertaken by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) (EUR 515 million). In the field of nuclear fission energy, a Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform was established in 2007 in order to better coordinate research and development, as well as demonstration and deployment. In the area of fusion energy, the EU is a founding member and main financial partner of ITER, an international nuclear fusion research and engineering project, which is currently building the world’s largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor in Cadarache, France. A Joint Undertaking for ITER and the Development of Fusion Energy was established in order to promote scientific research and technological development in the field of fusion (Council Decision 2007/198/Euratom). Its members are Euratom, represented by the Commission, the EU Member States and certain third countries which have concluded cooperation agreements with Euratom.

Because of its growing costs, future funding of the ITER project has become increasingly controversial and lead to some tussle between the EU institutions and Member States. In its communication on ‘ITER status and possible way forward’ (COM(2010) 226), the Commission stressed that the cost of the project had turned out to be much higher than originally estimated and that additional resources were needed and called on the Council and Parliament to take a decision of general principle on the future funding of the project. In its conclusions of 12 July 2010, the Council underlined its strong commitment to ITER, stating that it was willing to bear the estimated financing needs. A revised proposal was tabled by the Commission on 20 April 2011 (COM(2011) 226 final) as the Council and the Parliament could not initially agree on the proposed budget. In December 2011, an agreement was finally reached on the extension of funding for the ITER project with an additional EUR 1 300 million in 2012-2013. Financing the additional costs already foreseen for 2014-2018 is one of the stumbling blocks of current negotiations on the EU multi-financial framework to be decided for 2014-2020. Two alternatives are debated: either to finance ITER via a supplementary research programme under the Euratom Treaty or to fund it within the multi-financial framework and the research programme Horizon 2020.


The Parliament’s role in the decision-making process under the Euratom Treaty is limited since it has only consultation powers. Nevertheless, in its various resolutions on the topic, it has consistently put emphasis on the need to clarify the share of competences between EU institutions and Member States and strengthen the EU common framework, as well as the importance to improve safety and environmental protection requirements.

In its resolution adopting the directive on supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel, the Parliament included amendments to strengthen and clarify control procedures. It introduced an express provision for each Member State to retain the right to refuse entry onto its territory of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste for final processing or disposal (T6-0300/2006). At the occasion of the 50th anniversary of European nuclear energy policy, the Parliament criticised in its resolution of 10 May 2007 (T6-0181/2007) ‘the fact that the European Parliament is almost completely excluded from the Euratom legislative process and that it is consulted, and no more, on only one of the ten chapters of the Euratom Treaty’. It stressed that a comprehensive revision of the Euratom Treaty was needed. With its resolution on the Council directive setting up a Community framework for nuclear safety, the Parliament put special emphasis on the fact that nuclear security is a matter of Community interest, which should be taken into consideration when deciding upon licensing new plants or extending the lifetime of existing ones (T6-0254/2009). However, the final directive, which was passed under the consultation procedure, focuses on the national responsibility of Member States and does not follow Parliament’s suggestions. In its resolution endorsing the regulation on maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination of foodstuffs, the Parliament changed the legal basis of the regulation from Article 31 (Euratom Treaty) to Article 168 (TFEU) (T7-0055/2011). In its resolution of July 2011 on energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond (T7-0318/2011), the Parliament strongly supported the Commission’s decision to introduce stress tests for European nuclear power plants. A supplementary resolution was recently adopted in plenary in March 2013 pointing out the limits of the stress tests’ exercise carried out by the Commission in 2012 and asking for the inclusion in future tests of additional criteria notably on material deterioration, human errors, and flaws in reactor vessels. The Parliament urged full implementation of safety improvements (T7-0089/2013). In its resolution of 23 June 2011 on the Council directive on the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste (T7-0295/2011), the Parliament supported the Commission’s proposal for a complete export ban of radioactive waste, while the Council was in favour of allowing export under very strict conditions. The Parliament also asked to further specify that the directive relates to environmental protection and that sufficient provisions ensure public information and participation in waste management. In its recent resolution of March 2013 on the Council directive for monitoring radioactive substances in water intended for human consumption (T7-0068/2013), the Parliament requested a change of legal basis (from Articles 31 and 32 of the Euratom Treaty to Article 192 of the TFEU) and, as a consequence, the following of the ordinary legislative procedure. The Parliament introduced improved information for consumers, random checks of water quality and a differentiated management of natural radiation levels and contamination from human activities. It also clarified the duties of Member States and the Commission.

Source : European Parliament and European Commission

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