PARIS, April 22 (UPI) -- French utility Electricite de France has proposed a series of measures to improve the safety of its reactors, including the creation of a rapid reaction force that would respond to nuclear accidents.
This comes as EDF, the world's largest nuclear power company, is trying to counter fears, stoked by the unfolding nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in Japan, that nuclear power generation is too dangerous.
The crisis team proposed by EDF would be dispatched to a stricken reactor and be able to provide emergency water and power backup within 24 to 48 hours, the company said in a statement.
It added it wants to conduct in-depth reviews of its nuclear facilities.
"This involves looking at the safety margins for facilities dealing with the events following earthquakes, floods, power failures or interruptions to cooling processes," EDF said. "These reviews, to take place between now and the end of 2011, will involve both reactors and spent fuel pools."
Opposition to nuclear power is growing in France, the world's second-largest nuclear energy market behind the United States.
Environmental activists have staged demonstrations and launched hunger strikes to call for the closure of the Unit 1 reactor at the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant, one of France's oldest. Built in 1977, the reactor is in eastern France about 1 mile from the German border, in an area that frequently experiences earthquakes.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered stress tests for the country's 58 reactors and vowed to shut down those that fail them.
In neighboring Germany, home to 17 reactors that produce around one-fifth of the country's electricity demand, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered comprehensive stress tests for all the reactors and decided to close the seven oldest, most of them built during the 1970s, for at least three months. If their safety can't be guaranteed, they might be taken off the grid for good, Merkel said.
Meanwhile, European nuclear regulators are drafting stress tests for the continent's 163 reactors. Plants that don't perform well in those simulations might be required to be retrofitted with new technology. This could increase the price tag of producing nuclear power, observers say.
The European Nuclear Society says Europe is home to a total of 163 nuclear reactors, with the largest share in France (58), Britain (19) and Germany (17). Another 32 reactors are in Russia, with five of them on the country's Asian continental shelf.