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Europe's Nuclear Power Renaissance

Several European powers are rapidly progressing plans to expand their nuclear energy sectors, despite a lack of support from major EU powers, such as Germany. The U.K. recently announced plans for its biggest nuclear expansion in 70 years, as well as plans to extend the life of several existing facilities. France continues to back its longstanding approach to nuclear power, with plans to build several new reactors in the coming years. Sweden recently voted in favour of the expansion of its nuclear power sector, and Hungary is moving forward with the construction of a massive nuclear plant. 

This month, the U.K. government announced plans to make the biggest expansion to British nuclear power in 70 years, aimed at enhancing energy security, reducing consumer energy bills, and creating thousands of jobs. This move comes after the U.K. experienced greater energy volatility following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and subsequent sanctions on Russian energy. The government's Civil Nuclear Roadmap outlines the country's nuclear power ambitions, including plans for the major Sizewell C development and its small modular reactor (SMR) strategy. 

The U.K. hopes to increase electricity generation from nuclear sources by around four times, to 24 gigawatts (GW), by 2050, which would meet a quarter of the country's electricity needs. It suggests that major giga-scale projects, such as Sizewell in Suffolk or Hinkley in Somerset, could provide enough electricity to power around 6 million homes each once completed. The government also pledged to invest up to $379 million in the domestic production of HALEU fuel needed to power advanced nuclear reactors, shifting its reliance away from Russia for the fuel. This could make it the first country in Europe to produce HALEU. The government aims to invest a further $12.6 million in skills development for the workers running the new fuel facilities. 

In addition to developing new sites, the French energy major EDF recently stated plans to invest a further $1.6bn by 2026 to extend the life of its eight British nuclear facilities. EDF could also run the new 1.2 GW Sizewell B plant for 20 years longer than originally scheduled, until 2055. 

The U.K. Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, stated, "Nuclear is the perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain - it's green, cheaper in the long term and will ensure the UK's energy security for the long term. This is the right long-term decision and is the next step in our commitment to nuclear power, which puts us on course to achieve net zero by 2050 in a measured and sustainable way. This will ensure our future energy security and create the jobs and skills we need to level up the country and grow our economy." 

France, Europe's nuclear energy powerhouse, also plans to expand its nuclear capacity, despite pressure from Germany to invest in renewable energy instead of nuclear projects. In March last year, France's parliament voted in favour of the government's nuclear investment plan, with plans to build six new nuclear reactors. This month, the parliament will debate the possibility of increasing that figure to 14 new reactors, to meet the country's growing electricity demand. This supports France's aim of reducing its reliance on fossil fuels from 60 percent to 40 percent by 2035. 

Sweden's government is also backing nuclear expansion, as its parliament approved a bill that outlines the construction of additional reactors in November. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson's government hopes to construct two new conventional nuclear reactors by 2035. There was a previous cap of 10 nuclear reactors, that has since been lifted. In addition, new reactors will be permitted to be constructed on sites beyond where the current facilities of Ringhals, Forsmark and Oskarshamn are located. The parliament stated, "The Riksdag shares the government's assessment that fossil-free nuclear power will continue to play a central role in the Swedish energy mix." It added, "The main reasons for this are an expected greater demand for electricity in combination with the need to phase out fossil fuels, not least for climate reasons."

Meanwhile, Hungary is continuing the construction of its Paks-2 nuclear energy project. There has been substantial criticism over the country's ongoing energy ties with Russia, which has put pressure on several European companies, such as Germany's Siemens or France's Framatome, to quit the project. However, the Paks development is currently the largest nuclear project in Europe, and several companies have signed binding contracts to participate in the development and operation of the facility, which is expected to contribute to the country's green transition. 

While some European countries are moving away from nuclear power in favour of renewable alternatives, several see the expansion of the region's nuclear capacity as key to decarbonisation and the achievement of a green transition. The U.K., France and Sweden all announced ambitious nuclear energy expansion plans last year, and Hungary is rapidly developing its massive nuclear power site, in collaboration with several European powers. This is expected to substantially boost the quantity of clean electricity being produced across Europe in the coming decades.  

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com 

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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK. More