The EU’s competence in nuclear matters derives from the 1957 EURATOM Treaty (see above). Nuclear power contributes roughly one-third of the EU’s electricity production. As a result of the EURATOM Treaty, the European Commission has become the supranational regulatory authority in the areas of radiation protection, supply of nuclear fissile materials and nuclear safety.

Two fundamental objectives of EURATOM are to ensure the establishment of the basic installations necessary for the development of nuclear energy in the Community, and to ensure that all users in the Community receive a regular and equitable supply of ores and nuclear fuels.

The Supply Agency, operative since 1960, is the body established under EURATOM to ensure this supply by means of a common supply policy based on the principle of equal access to sources of supply. It has legal personality and financial autonomy. Pursuant to EURATOM, the Supply Agency has the right of option to acquire ores, source materials and special fissile materials produced in the Community and an exclusive right to conclude contracts for the supply of such materials from inside the Community or from outside. In order to be valid under EU law, supply contracts must be submitted to the Supply Agency for conclusion. The Supply Agency and the Commission pursue the objective of long term security of supply through a reasonable diversification of supply sources and the avoidance of excessive dependency on any one supply source, and ensure that in a context of fair trade, the viability of the nuclear fuel cycle industry is maintained.

EURATOM does not provide for the operation of nuclear power plants, the storage and disposal of radioactive waste, and Member States have enacted national laws and regulation in these areas. However, there is EU legislation in the field of decommissioning nuclear installations, which is based on chapter 3 (article 37 et al) of EURATOM Treaty and on the following Resolutions and Directives of the Council: 

  • Council Resolution of 15 June 1992 concerning the “Community Action Plan within the European Union in the field of radioactive waste” 
  • Council Resolution of 12 December 1994 concerning the management of radioactive waste within the European Union 
  • Council Directive of 27 June 1985 amended by Directive 97/11/CE of 3 March 1997 concerning the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment 
  • Council EURATOM Directive 96/29 of 13 May 1996 establishing revised basic health and safety standards (revision of Directive 80/836 EURATOM of 15 July 1980)

The Commission intends to present a draft legal package for the above proposals at the Council’s March meeting in Brussels. The Council will consider the options set out in the proposals and those adopted will, if adopted, make its way through the legislative process. It is too early to say when this process will be finalised, but given the opposition to some of the Commission’s plan, and in particular the proposed unbundling regime by some Member States, 2007 is likely to be an interesting year in European energy policy. Watch this space!