Competitiveness, economy, security of supply, climate change and public acceptability are key considerations for the future of nuclear power, says EESC in its opinion adopted at today’s plenary.
“The European Commission’s proposal does not offer a clear and comprehensive approach to the future of nuclear power in Europe”, deplores EESC rapporteur Brian Curtis (GII, UK). “The recent Hinkley point controversy shows it again: after the Fukushima catastrophe, our citizens righty demand long-term planning for nuclear energy. Today’s EESC opinion aims at re-balancing perspectives on the European energy mix which will ultimately help deliver on the Energy Union commitments.”
As set out in Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty, the EESC is the single interlocutor of the Commission in drafting the nuclear illustrative programmes (PINC) for the EU. Its opinion is calling for substantial revisions to the communication notably to include sections on the competitiveness of nuclear power, related economic aspects, its contribution to security of supply, climate change and carbon targets, and public acceptability, liability for nuclear damages, transparency, and effective national dialogue.
Effective national dialogue and public confidence
Indeed, nuclear power is a politically delicate issue in most Member States. The Commission should take this opportunity to propose in the PINC a clear analytical process and methodology offering a consistent, voluntary framework for national decision-making about the role – if any – of nuclear power in the energy mix, according to the opinion. Better national coordination between Member States, improved cooperation between stakeholders and greater transparency and public participation in nuclear issues should be given priority.
With regard to public acceptability, the opinion notes that “the wide variation across the EU on public attitudes to nuclear power is a little understood reality with significant effects on political acceptability”. The EESC thus calls for more information to be given on extensive work on off-site and cross-border preparation for emergencies and response to potential terrorist threats.
Transparency and future planning
The opinion notes that lifetime extension programmes (for 10-20 years) for many EU reactors are in the pipeline, with an estimated cost of EUR 45-50 billion. Fifty reactors are planned to be shut down by 2025, and operators estimate that EUR 253 billion will be required for the costs of decommissioning, with EUR 133 billion of dedicated funds identified.
Major uncertainties include the extent to which the Paris Agreement on climate change will be implemented, the volatility of the international market in fossil fuels, the rate at which new technologies will be applied, which countries are members of the EU, the influence of the global economic outlook and how much of the investment required in the whole energy chain will be forthcoming.
The opinion’s recommendations will be presented by Pierre-Jean Coulon, president of the EESC Energy and Transport Section, to the political decision-makers and top stakeholders at the upcoming European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) Plenary meeting on 3-4 October in Bratislava. “I will bring to the attention to Europe’s decision-makers these concrete ideas from civil society, and I will insist on the vital role of public understanding of the energy "dilemma". Indeed, we are faced with sometimes conflicting objectives of energy security, affordability and environmental sustainability. But we have to embrace these aspects to shape a solid Energy policy equipped to face the challenges of our future. Transition means time.”
Note to the editors
- According to Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty, the European Commission shall "periodically publish illustrative programmes indicating in particular nuclear energy production targets and all the types of investment required for their attainment. The Commission shall obtain the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on such programmes before their publication.”
- Five programmes have been published since 1958, setting out nuclear energy production targets and required investment. The communication COM(2016) 177 final (04/04/2016) is the first PINC from the Commission since Fukushima, and since the extensive development of the EU’s energy strategy in the form of the Energy Union package.
Nuclear power is one of the major sources of low-carbon energy in the EU, with 27% of electricity produced from nuclear energy. The EU nuclear industry operates in a global market with a value of EUR 3 trillion up to 2050 and directly employs half a million people. Across 14 Member States, 129 nuclear power reactors are in operation, and new-build reactors are planned in 10 of those states. The EU has the most advanced legally binding standards for nuclear safety worldwide, and European companies are heavily involved in global nuclear fuel production. Assuming 90% of the existing fleet is replaced between now and 2050, nuclear capacity would remain between 95 and 105 GWe by 2050 with investment of EUR 350-450 billion required.