While the U.S., the UK, and even Japan are doubling down on nuclear energy in the wake of the energy crisis, the European Union has seen divisions among member states over the role of atomic power in the climate goals only deepen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the spike in energy prices.
The clash between the pro-nuclear EU members – half of the bloc’s countries that have nuclear power plants – and those opposing the expansion of this form of energy has escalated in recent months. The spat is even hampering the EU from passing the Renewable Energy Directive, which stipulates a binding target of 42.5% renewables share in the EU’s electricity mix by 2030.
The pro-nuclear camp, led by France, seeks greater recognition of nuclear energy in the EU’s Green Deal and the inclusion of nuclear energy in the zero-carbon targets. The anti-nuclear camp, led by Germany and Austria, dismisses nuclear as a “green” power source and wants the EU to focus on accelerating the installation of wind and solar energy instead.
Nuclear Generates 25% Of EU’s Electricity
Thirteen EU countries – nearly half of the 27 member states – had operational nuclear reactors as of 2021—Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Spain, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden.
In 2021, nuclear plants with a total installed capacity of around 100 gigawatts (GW) generated 25.2% of all electricity produced in the EU, according to Eurostat data. France had the highest share of nuclear power in its electricity mix, at 68.9%, followed by Slovakia with a 52.4% nuclear share and Belgium with 50.6%.
As of the middle of April, Germany no longer produces nuclear power after it phased out all its nuclear plants—a pledge made in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.
The clash among EU countries on how nuclear energy should be treated in the green transition could be simplified with the different paths the EU’s largest economies – Germany and France – have chosen to follow in recent years and in the wake of the energy crisis last year.
Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, last month ended the nuclear power era despite continued concerns about energy security and energy supply after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the end of pipeline natural gas deliveries from Russia, which was the largest gas supplier to Germany before the war. Germany took its last three nuclear power plants offline in the middle of April, ending more than six decades of commercial nuclear energy use. Related: Saudi Arabia, Russia May Cut Production, But Don’t Expect Exports To Plunge
Although France has had troubles at many of its nuclear reactors, half of which have been shut down for repairs and maintenance several times over the past year, Europe’s second-largest economy doubles down on nuclear energy, spearheads EU efforts to include nuclear in the achievement of the net-zero targets, and is looking to develop small modular reactors.
EU Alliance Seeks Greater Role For Nuclear In Reaching Net-Zero
But the EU hasn’t included nuclear in the pathways to reaching net-zero by 2050. Nearly half of the member states want that changed.
So this week, France’s Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher hosted a meeting of the so-called Nuclear Alliance, at which representatives of 16 European countries – those with nuclear reactors plus the UK as invitee and Italy as observer – called on the EU “to take into account the contribution of all affordable, reliable, fossil-free and safe energy sources to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.”
The representatives of the Nuclear Alliance “emphasized on the key contribution of nuclear energy, as an addition to renewable energy, to decarbonise Europe’s energy production and collectively reach climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest,” the statement from the meeting reads.
They also encouraged the European Commission, which was represented at the meeting by Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, “to recognize nuclear energy in the EU’s energy strategy and relevant policies, including by proposing relevant initiatives and recognizing Member States’ efforts and commitment to decarbonize their energy mix with nuclear energy alongside all other fossil-free sources of energy in line with the transition toward climate neutrality.”
“16 European countries are convinced that nuclear power is an essential part of the energy transition, like renewable energies,” France’s Pannier-Runacher said.
Yves Desbazeille, Director General at industry body nucleareurope who also attended the meeting, commented,
“This meeting shows that an ever-growing number of Member States recognise that if we want to decarbonise our economy in a sustainable and affordable way, then the EU needs to support the development of both nuclear and renewables.”
Nuclear Energy Spat Delays Adoption Of Higher Renewables Targets
The EU divide on nuclear energy this week delayed a key vote on the bloc’s renewable energy targets as member states continue to argue about the role of nuclear power in the clean energy targets. EU member states were set to vote on Wednesday to endorse higher renewable energy targets, the so-called Renewable Energy Directive, and potentially pave the way for a final formal vote next week.
But France voiced concerns about the small role of nuclear energy in the clean energy targets, while a number of Eastern European countries reportedly expressed concerns about the high cost of accelerating the deployment of renewable energy sources.
Nuclear energy has been a bone of contention in several pieces of EU legislation in recent months. Last year, the EU decided to include nuclear energy and some natural gas projects and plants as environmentally sustainable economic activities. This was another controversial decision that drew the ire of environmental organizations that are now suing “the European Commission to end gas and nuclear greenwashing.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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