EURATOM: Finally a Success?
Ivana Metodieva, Gábor Szilágyi, Benoît Janjou and Francesco Dotti
Dwight David Eisenhower, Jean Monnet, Gamal Abdel Nasser – what do these three men have in common? Well, all of them played a role in the creation of the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) – in a direct or an indirect way.
President Eisenhower’s famous speech „Atoms for Peace” on 8 December 1953 marked a turning point concerning the United States’ attitude towards sharing nuclear technology. Since then the idea gained more popularity: atomic energy was considered at that time as a sign of modernization and progress for everyone. European states also wanted to use the new source of power for their economic growth.
In the early 50s the first attempt of the European nation states to become nuclear powers failed. Accordingly, they began to raise the idea of a Western European Community for producing and using atomic energy. One of its representatives, Jean Monnet, tried to link the EURATOM issue to the negotiations concerning the Common Market of six Western European countries (Monnet viewed nuclear energy as ‘God’s gift to integrators’).
At the Messina Conference in June 1955 the European states for the first time tried to establish a European Atomic Energy Community. At first, the negotiations did not lead anywhere because of the disagreements between some states. The Europeans needed a push from outside to reach a common view.
This external impact came from the Egyptian President’s decision to nationalise the Suez Canal. This measure revealed the Europeans’ dependence on oil imports from the Middle East. The use of nuclear energy seemed to make the Western European countries more independent. As A. V. Freeman stated, ‘If Suez did not give birth to EURATOM, it was at least a midwife or, possibly, a lady-in-waiting’.
After these events, the EURATOM Treaty was signed in Rome on 25 March 1957. Its main goals were to contribute to the formation and development of Europe’s nuclear industry (so that all Member States could benefit from nuclear energy); to enhance the security of the energy supply; to guarantee high standards of safety for the public and workers; finally to ensure that nuclear materials would not be diverted from civil to military use.
All the provisions were concentrated on the fissile materials rather than on the facilities. EURATOM’s authority extended to data collection as well as its verification e.g. by statistical analysis or inspection. It was not entitled to impose sanctions directly; instead, it could only provide the information for the member states. According to the 1973 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), EURATOM was given the authority to conduct verification procedures within its member states by relying on the observations of IAEA inspectors.
However, after the 1967 signing of the Merger Treaty the importance of EURATOM decreased. This process might have had several reasons, e.g. shortcomings of the EURATOM Treaty, nuclear nationalism, and lack of leadership or over-inflated initial expectations.
Furthermore, during the following decades public opinion changed concerning nuclear energy. After the reactor catastrophe in Chernobyl nobody considered this power resource as a sign of progress anymore. Even though the EURATOM Treaty still remains in force today, political success has never been achieved.
Despite often described as unable to achieve what it was expected to, the European Union is nowadays carrying out a nuclear energy policy through the competences that the EURATOM Treaty gave it.
The modifications brought by the Lisbon Treaty
The Lisbon Treaty with its Protocol 2 recently amended the EURATOM Treaty. Nevertheless these modifications are not a thorough change of the treaty and only adapted it to the new institutional and financial rules of the EU that the Lisbon Treaty
has generated. Therefore the European Atomic Energy Community has not merged with the European Union and keeps a separate legal personality. As in the past, the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community continue to share the same institutions (Commission, Council, Parliament and the Court of Justice).
The achievements of EURATOM
But what has the EURATOM Treaty finally managed to achieve during its more than fifty years of existence? Today its initial aims are still relevant and it must be said albeit critics that it has achieved some important tasks.
First of all, the major achievement of the treaty is certainly the security it provided to European citizens in the nuclear sector. The treaty indeed enforced comprehensive safety standards all over European nuclear facilities, protecting both the population and workers in the nuclear industry. Until today, fortunately no major nuclear accident has occurred among the 151 nuclear reactors in Europe, and the safety records are of high quality. The security policy carried out in the framework of the EURATOM Treaty can certainly be thanked for that. EURATOM loans have also helped to implement safety upgrades so that nuclear facilities stay at the upper level of security.
Another goal of the treaty was that civil nuclear material would not be diverted to other purposes (particularly military use) than the ones declared by the Member States. The standards of handling and distribution of fissile material have efficiently achieved this task. The EU has exclusive powers in this domain which it exercises with the aid of a team of 300 inspectors and in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The EURATOM Treaty has also set up a EURATOM Supply Agency which aims at ensuring that all users in the EU receive a regular and equitable supply of ores and nuclear fuels. This established a real market of fissile materials based on the principle of equal access of all countries to sources of supply.
Finally, the EURATOM Treaty has also achieved important success in the field of research. In the most recent years, through its 7th Framework Programme between 2007 and 2011 and with the help of its Joint Research Centre (JRC), it developed nuclear research in the area of radioprotection, fission and fusion. The research in radioprotection and in fission aims at developing knowledge about the protection of workers in nuclear facilities, a better management of nuclear waste and the development of a new generation of reactors. But it is interesting to see that the most important part of the research budget (1.9 out of 2.7 billion euros) is invested in a field that has not yet any real application: nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is the energy that powers the sun and to harness this energy would enable to avoid the creation of nuclear waste. Fusion will also resolve the issue of the need of nuclear fuels as all that is needed for the fusion operation would be water and lithium both very abundant on Earth. Thus, fusion would provide a sustainable solution to global energy needs. Within this framework, the EU has developed the world’s largest energy research project: International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Started in 2007, this project will gather researchers from the EU member states as well as India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland in Cadarache (France) in order to attempt to harness this fusion energy. The construction of the site is supposed to end in 2019.
Recently, the EU has decided to set up a comprehensive programme of research to prepare Europe for the new century.
Horizon 2020 is the new programme of funding an integrated system aimed at research activities of the European Commission. The programme has three main goals: responding to the economic crisis with investments in future jobs; addressing people’s concerns about their livelihoods, safety and environment; strengthening the EU’s global position in research, innovation and technology. To pursue these objectives, the programme identifies three priorities regarding the excellence in science (attracting and retain research talent), industrial leadership (with strategic investments in key technologies) and societal challenges. Two different programmes for the development of EURATOM were included in the Horizon 2020, namely the EURATOM 2014-2015 Programme and the EURATOM Programme for Nuclear Research for 2014-2018.
This specific programme about the nuclear issue, for the current year and the following one, is scheduled in four principal parts, each of them with a particular goal. The first one is improving safety design and operation of fission reactors. The focus will be on actions increasing the knowledge basis on reactor life-time management issues relevant to safety. So, the medium term prospect is the improvement of safety relevant equipment and a better safety culture.
Another objective is supporting the licensing of geological repositories (mines and storage facilities). The interaction between regulatory authorities and national radioactive waste management organisations is essential in the context of the licensing process of underground requisitories. So, this action will lead to an exchange of regulatory review methods and competences in regulatory functions, thereby easing and accelerating the licensing process. The third goal of the programme is to foster radiation protection. It aims at protecting people and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of ionising radiation. On the other hand, the deep understanding of the effects of ionising radiations is also necessary for drawing maximum benefits from the adequate use of these in medical and industrial applications.
The last objective is supporting the development of nuclear competences at Union level and socio-economic aspects. To pursue this, it is important to develop research and training programmes and maintain nuclear expertise by generating knowledge (research) and developing competences (training).
EURATOM Programme for Nuclear Research 2014-2018 (Council of the EU)
The proposed EURATOM Research and Training Programme (2014-2018) concerns research activities in nuclear energy (fusion and fission in particular) and radiation protection. The EURATOM programme allows the continuity of nuclear research activities carried out under the former programme that expired at the end of 2013. All EURATOM programmes are limited to up to five years. The programme will continue to contribute to the three strategic objectives outlined in the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme. It will do so by enhancing competition for scientific excellence and accelerating the deployment of key innovations in the nuclear energy field, notably in fusion and nuclear safety. Moreover, it will contribute to tackling energy and climate change challenges. Thus, it will underpin the creation of the European Research Area.
The programme is implemented through a single regulation which addresses the objective of simplification of funding rules as well as a revised control strategy. It is a single act that brings together four separate documents: a Framework Programme, a Specific Programme for indirect actions, a Specific Programme for direct actions by the JRC, and Rules for Participation and Dissemination.
Direct and Indirect Actions:
- Indirect Actions – cover fusion energy research and research on nuclear fission, safety and radiation protection.
The indirect actions contribute to the achievement of different specific objectives such as: safe operation of nuclear systems; the development of solutions for the management of ultimate nuclear waste; the development and sustainability of nuclear competences at Union level; foster radiation protection, move toward demonstration of feasibility of fusion as a power source by exploiting existing and future fusion facilities; lay the foundations for future fusion power plants by developing materials, technologies and conceptual design; promote innovation and industrial competitiveness; ensure availability and use of research infrastructures of pan-European relevance.
Moreover, the fusion energy research activities will also include some actions contributing to the achievement of the construction of the ITER.
- Direct Actions – cover activities of the Joint Research Centre in the field of nuclear waste management, environmental impact, safety and security. The main idea behind the direct actions is the enhancing of the safety of nuclear fission (and other uses of radiation) and in industry and medicine.
The direct actions contribute for the achievement of specific objectives such as: improvement of the nuclear safety (fuel and reactor safety, waste management and decommissioning, and emergency preparedness); improvement of nuclear security (nuclear safeguards, non-proliferation, combating illicit trafficking and nuclear forensics); excellence in the nuclear science; foster knowledge management, education and training; and support of the evolving Union legislation.
Created in 1958, the EURATOM Treaty had a major impact on the European Member States. Although, being frequently referred to as a failure, we could still argue that it contributed a lot to the states’ progress in the sphere of research, development and innovation. The EURATOM programme will continue to implement the “Innovation Union” strategy and will help to tackle energy and climate change challenges.
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