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EU executive amends nuclear plan, greens cry foul

BRUSSELS, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The European Union's executive amended its controversial proposals for nuclear safety and waste management legislation on Wednesday, but a leading environmental group slammed the package as misleading and helpful to industry.

EU Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, considered a proponent of nuclear energy in Europe, presented the revised proposals, which call for unified standards on safety at nuclear installations throughout the 25-nation bloc.

They would also require member states to create plans for dealing with radioactive waste, but a Commission-imposed deadline for those plans was dropped from the latest drafts as a concession to win backing from some sceptical EU governments. "One of the main problems in the nuclear energy issue is there is too little information," de Palacio told a news conference. "These (proposals) are key instruments for ensuring greater transparency, rationalising the debate and dispelling public fears regarding this source of energy."

Other changes to the original plans, which were first presented in January 2003, included withdrawing a proposal for so-called "peer reviews" in which inspectors from one EU country would check nuclear installations in another country.

Member states would instead be required to submit national reports on nuclear safety to the Commission for review.

Environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth said the proposals were unlikely to be passed by EU governments and accused the Commission of favouring industry by implying additional safety measures that were an "illusion".

"Nothing in the directives would substantially add to nuclear safety," said Friends of the Earth spokesman Mark Johnston, saying the proposals would duplicate safety standards already in place at an international level.

"It gives the suggestion that something is being done about nuclear safety, particularly in regard to Soviet-designed nuclear plants that have recently come into the EU."

De Palacio said there was a blocking minority of countries against the proposal as it stood, but talks were underway with states that could be persuaded.

Britain, Germany, Sweden and Finland are among those countries that have opposed the measures in the past, and a spokeswoman for Britain's EU representation in Brussels said it had not changed its position.

De Palacio, whose term expires at the end of October, wants the legislation to be approved before she leaves.

Friends of the Earth said it expected incoming energy commissioner Laszlo Kovacs of Hungary to be less enthusiastic about nuclear energy.

The group called on the new Commission to adopt a different approach and to finish an investigation over long-term decommissioning and waste management funding in Europe's nuclear industry.

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