The head of the European Commission was to begin a push on Monday for European safety standards for nuclear power plants to become binding worldwide, a development that might benefit France as it competes to sell its expensive technology and expertise against countries offering cheaper alternatives.
José Manuel Barroso said in a speech to be delivered at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris that the European Union was “the first big regional actor to make the main international norms for nuclear security internationally binding.”
“Others must now come along with us,” Barroso said, according to a copy of the speech seen by the International Herald Tribune.
If member governments of the Union agree, the bloc is expected to present the proposal at a summit meeting scheduled for Washington in mid-April to be hosted by US president Barack Obama, at which world leaders are to discuss balancing the goal of nuclear disarmament with the prospects for rapid growth in the civilian nuclear power sector.
The Union agreed to nuclear safety standards with the International Atomic Energy Agency and adopted them into law last year.
Many other nations using nuclear power also have similar standards. But Union officials said that making the rules legally binding in Europe had made them more enforceable and they want to see similar standards of enforcement globally. The officials spoke on background because they were not supposed to speak publicly ahead of Barroso’s speech.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the I.A.E.A., praised the E.U.’s security standards in November, before he stepped down from that job, and he said they should be made binding on all other nations.
The I.A.E.A. operates under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is meant to assure that plutonium made in civilian reactors is not transferred to military use.
The initiative shows the Union seeking to ensure that nations using nuclear energy put in place systems, and possibly equipment, with standards as high as Europe’s, to ensure the peaceable spread of the technology. But the initiative was not designed to promote European technologies or designs in particular, according to the Union officials.
The market for nuclear power is potentially vast. About 400 new reactors could be built worldwide, with many in developing nations, by 2030, according to the industry. Power company executives in Asia estimate that China will build three-quarters of the world’s new reactors through 2020, making that market critically important for equipment suppliers.