Nuclear power is vital for a low carbon future in Europe

Published: 08 May 2018 By Matt Cook

The EU is home to more nuclear plants than other region in the world, yet the existing nuclear policies are having a significant impact in the future of the European nuclear industry.

There is a total of 127 operational nuclear plants in Europe, with a further five in Switzerland. A quarter of the 14 nations with nuclear power generate over half of their electricity directly from nuclear.

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In the EU, nuclear energy generates 27% of the total electricity and accounts for approximately half of low-carbon energy generation in the EU.

For many years nuclear energy has provided a reliable and low carbon source of energy for the region. The industry provides over 800,000 nuclear jobs across 3,000 businesses. The sector also enables a higher level of energy security for a region that generally relies on the import of fossil fuels. 


Whilst nuclear energy has proven to be reliable and effective in generating a low carbon energy source, it faces growing opposition. Nations such as Austria and Italy have shown a strong opposal towards the industry. Other countries including Germany, Spain and Belgium have continued to promote a strong plans to counter further nuclear industry development. The UK, Finland and Hungary however, have shown their support towards the nuclear industry and the development or plans to create additional nuclear plants.

Opposing members have remained strong on the subject that any environmental support should clearly disregard any reliance on the nuclear sector. The Chernobyl nuclear incident and the more recent accident at Fukushima have reinforced the potential safety concerns with nuclear development. There is also a strong belief that renewables, specifically wind and solar is capable of replacing the nuclear industry and offers a low carbon and disaster-free solution to nuclear.


With strong opposition against nuclear, governments have imposed special nuclear taxes causing a rise in project development and at the same time implemented subsidies for renewables. Some nations such as Sweden, Belgium and Germany have also confirmed a complete removal of their nuclear sector and a transition towards renewable energy development.
Even in France, home to the largest nuclear sites in Europe, the nation has implemented nuclear capacity limits to ensure nuclear development does not increase and further plans to reduce overall capacity levels. New government plans have, however, extended the previous target dates and are reviewing their nuclear reduction plan.


What nuclear supporters are really concerned with is the potential closure of efficient and existing operating plans such as Fessenhiem and the realistic scenario of renewables being capable of replacing these sites. French regulators have indicated that these mentioned sites are safe and operational for at least another ten years. 


In previous years, Germany had reconsidered extending the planned phase out of its nuclear industry. However, the Fukushima accident resulted in a drive to implement an instant closure, ahead of the initial development plans. A leading economist in Germany reported that it was ‘unrealistic’ to think that Germany could generate enough energy from only solar and wind. The removal of nuclear energy in Germany has also influenced their carbon reduction plans. With the highest energy carbon intensity levels in Europe, Germany has admitted it is unlikely to achieve its 2020 targets, with carbon emission reductions coming to a standstill with the closure of nuclear sites. This has also been accentuated with continued development of new coal plants.


Europe will require another 80GW of nuclear capacity by 2050 in order to maintain its current level. Nuclear supporters believe that new plans should be implemented to increase the overall footprint of nuclear energy across Europe. If decarbonisation is the key goal of European nations then nuclear energy needs to be seriously considered in the moving towards a low carbon energy future.

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