European countries have yet to make public all essential information about nuclear safety and to involve the public in decision-making about nuclear energy, said the European Economic and Social Committee.
The conclusion came at the end of a two-day conference convened to assess the implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the field of nuclear safety.
The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, grants public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice in issues concerning the environment.
The Convention was ratified by the European Union and the convention-inspired principles are applied in its legislation, namely the Radioactive Waste Management Directive and in the forthcoming revision of the Nuclear Safety Directive.
“The road to greater nuclear safety goes via greater transparency”, said Ms Ulla Sirkeinen, an EESC member from Finland.
According to Richard Adams, another EESC member who drafted numerous opinions on nuclear energy, the public must be positively engaged in open ended decision-making on nuclear energy-related issues that have long-term consequences.
The conference saw a discussion over the transparency of recent stress tests that aimed to review the safety of the EU’s nuclear plants.
Peter Faross, a Director at the European Commission, admitted that although there was no real dialogue with the public during the stress tests, transparency was ensured insofar as all documents were publicly available on the Internet.
Participants asked the European Commission to draw up “clear and widely endorsed” guidelines on the transparency clauses in the directives on nuclear waste and safety, notably with regard to the right of the public to participate in the process.
Dedicated support should be aimed towards public officials to help them accurately implement the provisions on access to information and transparency, they said.
Addressing the issue of public involvement in the inherently complex debate about nuclear energy, the French Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety emphasised the need for “building up the expertise of citizens” by making information available that is understandable to the general public, thus leading to increased awareness of the issue.
Pierre-Jean Coulon, a French EESC member, concluded that although the implementation of the Aarhus Convention remains a challenge, its role in improving governance and holding authorities to account was not questioned.
The event was organised by the National Association of Local Information Committees and Commissions, the European Commission, the European Economic & Social Committee, and the French Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).