Nuclear power in the European Union

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This article is about nuclear power in the whole European Union. For nuclear energy policy in individual member states, see Nuclear energy policy by country.
European Union countries employing nuclear energy for electricity generation are marked in orange. Those without nuclear power stations are shown in pale blue.

Nuclear power in the European Union accounted for approximately 15% of total energy consumption in 2005. The energy policies of the European Union (EU) member countries vary significantly. As of January 2010, 14 out of 27 countries have nuclear reactors. The countries with reactors are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.[1] Currently, nine European countries are building new reactors, or seriously planning to build new ones:[2]

  • France
  • Finland
  • Slovakia
  • United Kingdom
  • Poland (the biggest European nation to have never had nuclear power plants)
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Czech Republic
  • Bulgaria

Slovenian plans to expand Krško plant seem to have been dropped, instead a 20 years life extension is under evaluation. EPR new reactors under construction in Finland and France have been delayed and are running over-budget.[3] Similar problems are for VVR new reactors under construction in Slovakia, which are anyway slowly closing to completion.

Several countries, among the ones owning nuclear power plants, have anyway expanded their nuclear power generation capacity by just upgrading existing reactors. Such upgrades granted from 10% to 29% more power per unit.[4]

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its reactors and pledged to close the rest by 2022;[5] but difficulties, costs and subsequent critics of planned energy transition could potentially harm this policy.[6][7] Italy voted twice, in 1987 to make more difficult to build new plants (the vote was extensively interpreted by following governments as a total repeal of nuclear power plants, leading to the sudden shut down of all Italian operating reactors within few years), and in 2011 to keep their country non-nuclear.[8] Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.[9] Belgium is considering phasing out its nuclear plants, perhaps as early as 2015.[9] France, frequently heralded as a nuclear commercial model for the world, is today locked in a national debate over a partial nuclear phase-out.[9] In the same time, however, Sweden embraced a nuclear phase-out policy as early as 1980, so preceding all these countries; but only the two oldest reactors, of twelve, were shut down at their end of life; while in 2010 Swedish Parliament repealed this policy.[10]

Stress tests[edit]

Stress tests were developed within EU in the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the goal to make all the 132 operating European reactors to follow the same safety standards and to have the same safety level, for a list of possible catastrophical events (e.g. earthquake, flooding or plane crash). Generally speaking, the most part of reactors proved well during the tests, with just 4 reactors in 2 countries having less than one hour for reactivating safety systems; anyway, most part of reactors will have as well to undergo a program of safety upgrades.[11] The costs of additional safety improvements were estimated in 2012 to be in the range of €30 million to €200 million per reactor unit. Thus, the total costs for the 132 reactors operating in the EU could be in the order of €10–25 billion for all NPP units in the EU over the coming years.[12]

Energy mix[edit]

The EU-27 in 2005 satisfied its primary energy consumption with 36.7% oil, 24.6% gas, 17.7% coal, 14.2% nuclear, 6.7% renewables and 0.1% industrial waste.[13][14] In 2006, nuclear energy provided the largest source (29.5%) of electricity with a production of 990 TWh, and an installed capacity of 134 GWe (17,6% of all installed capacity). It was the leading electric power source in Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. France, where nuclear is also the largest primary energy source, produced 450 TWh in 2006 – 45% of the EU's total. Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, Poland and Portugal did not produce any nuclear energy.[15] As of June 2013 there are 131 nuclear reactors in the European Union. 112 units of these are located in eight of the western EU countries.[16] Total nuclear energy generation from EU power plants increased by 25% from 1995 to 2005. The majority of this growth occurred in the 1990s. Installed capacities decreased by 2.6% since 1990 and relative contribution to the overall electricity mix decreased from 30,8% in 1990 to 30,2% in 2005.[17]

Uranium resources[edit]

Sources of uranium delivered to EU utilities in 2009, from the 2009 Annual report of the Euratom Supply Agency

In 2009, only 3% of the uranium used in European nuclear reactors was mined in Europe. Australia, Russia, Canada and Niger were the largest suppliers of nuclear materials to the EU, supplying more than 70% of the total needs in 2009[18]

EU-level policy[edit]

European nuclear policy is governed by the Euratom Treaty. Therefore regular EU policy, on for example environment or the market does not apply to issues in the nuclear field. The nuclear policy is mainly in the competence of the member states. In the EU level, DG ENER is the main authority for EU nuclear issues.

The European Council is the locus for intergovernmental decisions. The European Parliament does not have authority in the field of nuclear policy other than the right to ask questions to the European Commission.

In case of a radiological emergency, the EU will trigger its ECURIE alert system, which immediately notifies all national authorities of an impending nuclear hazard. This system was installed after the experience with the Chernobyl disaster.

The Commission's SET plan mentions the "sustainable nuclear fission initiative" to develop Generation IV reactors as one of the research priorities of the European Union.

The European Commission is proposing a stress test for all nuclear power plants in Europe, to prove the nuclear fleet can withstand incidents like those in Fukushima.[19] The European Commission is also proposing tests for countries near the EU that make use of nuclear power.

Nuclear waste[edit]

On average, the EU creates about 40,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste per year. Eighty percent of that is short-lived low-level radioactive waste.[20] France and the United Kingdom are currently the only EU countries that reprocess waste. However, the reprocessing of spent fuel in the UK is being phased out but is expected to continue in France. The countries that currently use this reprocessed fuel (MOX) include Germany, Belgium, France and Switzerland.[21] Reprocessing spent fuel significantly decreases its volume and extracts plutonium from it. Although plutonium is commonly associated with nuclear weapons, the plutonium extracted with reprocessing is not suitable for 'classic' nuclear weapons.[22]

The EBRD is financing the decommissioning of old nuclear plants in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia.[23]

EU memberstates Austria, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovenia are working since January 2009 together in the European Repository Development Organisation (ERDO) to address common issues on nuclear waste storage.[24]

ERDO was working early 2010 on a plan to dump European nuclear waste somewhere in eastern Europe.[25]

"Some 7,000 cubic meters of high-level nuclear waste are produced across the EU each year. Most Member States store spent fuel and other highly radioactive wastes in above-ground storage facilities that need continuous maintenance and oversight and are at risk of accidents, such as airplane crashes, fires or earthquakes. Hungary and Bulgaria currently ship nuclear waste to Russia."[26]

On 19 July 2011, the European Commission adopted a Directive for regulating and handling nuclear waste in the EU.[27] "Exports to countries outside the EU is allowed under very strict and binding conditions: The third country needs to have a final repository in operation, when the waste is being shipped. Such a repository for highly radioactive waste is internationally defined to be a deep geological repository. At present, such deep geological repositories do not exist anywhere in the world nor is a repository in construction outside of the EU. It takes currently a minimum of 40 years to develop and build one."[27]

European nuclear industry[edit]

Advanced new reactors under construction in Finland and France, which were meant to lead a nuclear renaissance, have been delayed and are running over-budget.[3] There has been a 15 year gap in building reactors, which has meant that there are difficulties in manufacturing the high quality parts required for a reactor. The new reactor also represents an advance over existing technologies, with better reliability and safety over Generation II reactors. Finally, they are "first-of-a-kind" industrial plants, having then all the kinds of problems and delays that should be avoided in following projects.

The European nuclear industry is working to develop Generation IV nuclear reactors. Foratom is a Brussels based trade organisation that bills itself as the "voice of the nuclear industry".[28]

Along with companies and trade organisations like Foratom, General Electric, Hitachi, and Toshiba are all partners in the European Nuclear Industry. Other partners may include TEPCO from Japan and KEPCO from South Korea. The nuclear industry is regulated by governments and financing is often provided to private contractors who do the work.

Nuclear Safety is an ongoing discussion in the EU. The Western European Nuclear Regulators Association has members from 17 states or European countries. Nuclear safety faces many challenges.[29] WENR addresses these challenges and commits itself to objective reporting. An example of a report is the publication, "Stress Test" specifications, Proposal by the WENRA Task Force, 21 April 2011.[30]

Future plans[edit]

Currently, nine European countries are building new reactors, or seriously planning to build new ones:[2]

  • France
  • Finland
  • Slovakia
  • United Kingdom
  • Poland (the biggest European nation to have never had nuclear power plants)
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Czech Republic
  • Bulgaria

Slovenian plans to expand Krško plant seem to have been dropped, instead a 20 years life extension is under evaluation. EPR new reactors under construction in Finland and France have been delayed and are running over-budget.[3] Similar problems are for VVR new reactors under construction in Slovakia, which are anyway slowly closing to completion. Power companies are building nuclear reactors in Finland and France and the French state continues to fund nuclear power, with a €1 billion added to help research for fourth-generation technology and nuclear safety.[31] GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy won a bid to build the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania.[32]

Several countries, among the ones owning nuclear power plants, have anyway expanded their nuclear power generation capacity by just upgrading existing reactors. Such upgrades granted from 10% to 29% more power per unit.[4]

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its reactors and pledged to close the rest by 2022.[5] Italy voted twice, in 1987 to make more difficult to build new plants (the vote was extensively interpreted by following governments as a total repeal of nuclear power plants, leading to the sudden shut down of all Italian operating reactors within few years), and in 2011 to keep their country non-nuclear.[8] Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.[9] Belgium is considering phasing out its nuclear plants, perhaps as early as 2015.[9] France, frequently heralded as a nuclear commercial model for the world, is today locked in a national debate over a partial nuclear phase-out.[9] In the same time, however, Sweden embraced a nuclear phase-out policy as early as 1980, so preceding all these countries; but only the two oldest reactors, of twelve, were shut down at their end of life; while in 2010 Swedish Parliament repealed this policy.[10]

Eight German nuclear power reactors (Biblis A and B, Brunsbuettel, Isar 1, Kruemmel, Neckarwestheim 1, Philippsburg 1 and Unterweser) were permanently shutdown on 6 August 2011, following the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster.[33]

As said, the 2011 Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster has led some European energy officials to re-think about nuclear power generation, above all in Germany and Switzerland. Switzerland has abandoned plans to replace its old nuclear reactors and will take the last one offline in 2034. Anti-nuclear opposition intensified in Germany. In the following months the government decided to shut down eight reactors immediately (6 August 2011) and to have the other nine off the grid by the end of 2022. Renewable energy in Germany is believed to be able to compensate for much of the loss. In September 2011 Siemens, which had been responsible for constructing all 17 of Germany's existing nuclear power plants, announced that it would exit the nuclear sector following the Fukushima disaster and the subsequent changes to German energy policy. Chief executive Peter Loescher has supported the German government's planned Energiewende, its transition to renewable energy technologies, calling it a "project of the century" and saying Berlin's target of reaching 35% renewable energy sources by 2020 was feasible.[34] Despite this, the phasing out of nuclear energy seems to be much more difficult and costly than expected. The transition is tending more towards polluting fossil fuel plants than clean renewable energies, sparking several critics. Actually, transition plans did not meet their short term goals and will hardly meet their medium term goals; fossil fuel prices and technology are still more efficient, cheaper and easier to implement than heavily state-subsidised solar and wind power generation.[6][7]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ "Power Reactor Information System". International Atomic Energy Agency. 18 September 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Nuclear Power in the World Today
  3. ^ a b c James Kanter. In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble New York Times, 28 May 2009.
  4. ^ a b Plans For New Reactors Worldwide
  5. ^ a b Annika Breidthardt (30 May 2011). "German government wants nuclear exit by 2022 at latest". Reuters. 
  6. ^ a b Germany's Energy Poverty: How Electricity Became a Luxury Good
  7. ^ a b Three lessons from Germany's energy transition
  8. ^ a b "Italy Nuclear Referendum Results". 13 June 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Henry Sokolski (28 November 2011). "Nuclear Power Goes Rogue". Newsweek. 
  10. ^ a b Nuclear Power in Sweden
  11. ^ COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT on the comprehensive risk and safety assessments ("stress tests") of nuclear power plants in the European Union and related activities /* COM/2012/0571 final */
  12. ^ COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT on the comprehensive risk and safety assessments ("stress tests") of nuclear power plants in the European Union and related activities Brussels, 4.10.2012 page 8 Stress tests
  13. ^ http://dataservice.eea.europa.eu/atlas/viewdata/viewpub.asp?id=3392
  14. ^ Fernanado Esteban (23 May 2002). "The future of nuclear energy in the European Union" (PDF). Directorate General for Energy and Transport: European Commission. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  15. ^ "EU ENERGY IN FIGURES 2007/2008" (PDF). Eurostat. Retrieved 17 October 2008. 
  16. ^ [1] World Nuclear Association, Facts and Figures
  17. ^ "Gas and electricity market statistics" (PDF). Eurostat. 26 October 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  18. ^ 2009 Annual report of the Euratom Supply Agency
  19. ^ http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/bibliotheque/briefing/2011/110159/LDM_BRI(2011)110159_REV2_EN.pdf
  20. ^ "Management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste". Europa. SCADPlus. 22 November 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  21. ^ "Nuclear power plants in the world" (PDF). Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique (CEA). 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  22. ^ "Talk of nuclear revival rekindles waste concerns". MSNBC. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  23. ^ Nuclear safety [EBRD – Sector]
  24. ^ http://www.erdo-wg.eu/
  25. ^ http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/news-brief-cover/193361-eastern-europe-nuclear-dustbin
  26. ^ http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jul2011/2011-07-19-01.html
  27. ^ a b http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/906&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
  28. ^ http://www.foratom.org/about-us.html
  29. ^ http://www.wenra.org/extra/pod/?id=14&module_instance=1&action=pod_show
  30. ^ http://www.wenra.org/dynamaster/file_archive/110421/0ea2c97b35d658d73d1013f765e0c87d/StressTestsSpecifications2011-04-21.pdf
  31. ^ "France nuclear power funding gets 1bn euro boost". BBC News. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  32. ^ "Hitachi showed more commitment to Visaginas N-Plant project". The Lithuania Tribune. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  33. ^ IAEA (2011 Highlights). "Power Reactor Information System".  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  34. ^ "Siemens to quit nuclear industry". BBC News. 18 September 2011.