By Marie Maitre
DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - The European Union called on Thursday for worldwide "stress tests" on nuclear power plants, and said they would discuss stronger global safety standards during meetings with the Group of Eight leaders.
"When we talk nuclear, we talk global. We want nuclear stress tests to go beyond Europe," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference in Deauville as the G8 summit was starting in the northern French seaside resort.
"We want to promote the highest possible safety standards around the world for nuclear energy," Barroso added.
Nuclear safety is among issues on the agenda at the summit as many countries ponder whether to scrap atomic-based power generation following Japan's Fukushima accident in March.
European nuclear watchdogs agreed on Wednesday to check the resilience of the region's 143 reactors to earthquakes and other natural disasters, in what are called "stress tests."
"The EU has a clear message: nuclear safety is an absolute priority for us. We want to stick to the highest safety standards," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said at the joint press conference with Barroso.
The EU will push for stronger global safety standards, said Barroso, calling for a revision of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) nuclear safety convention.
G8 member Russia has already proposed to strengthen the U.N. nuclear watchdog's safety standards, and make adherence compulsory, calling for instance for restrictions on building reactors in earthquake-prone areas.
But diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, have said members states differ on whether there should be mandatory international safety rules and whether a body like the IAEA should have powers to enforce them.
Currently the IAEA draws up safety recommendations but does not have the power to implement them as national authorities are mainly responsible for safety issues.
The Fukushima incident has derailed a global renaissance for atomic energy, prompting countries such as G8 members Germany and Italy to freeze their plans.
On Wednesday, the Swiss government said it would scrap plans to build new nuclear reactors but said it will not shut existing power plants prematurely.
Other countries though, including France, Britain and Poland, have said they will push on with nuclear.
France, the world's most nuclear dependent country with 58 reactors that supply 80 percent of its power needs, said atomic power was needed to meet the world's ever rising energy demand.
(Reporting by Marie Maitre; editing by Alastair Macdonald)