Nuclear Energy’s Future In Europe

Nuclear energy will continue to constitute an important part of Europe’s energy mix for the foreseeable future.
Published: Tue 12 Apr 2016

With nuclear energy currently comprising approximately 27% of Europe’s electricity, it is – and as a low carbon technology will continue to be – an important part of the region’s energy mix and contributor to security of supply.

Currently there are 129 nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 120GWe in operation in 14 member states. Some countries are reducing or phasing out their nuclear capacity. But others are doing the opposite and new build projects are currently envisaged in 10 member states. Four reactors are already under construction in Finland, France and Slovakia. Other projects in Finland, Hungary and the UK are under in the licensing process, while projects in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Romania are at a preparatory stage.

Taking into account the expected increase in electricity demand and a capacity stabilizing from 2030 onwards between 95GWe and 105GWe, the share of nuclear in the mix is projected at about 20% across the region by 2050.

Nuclear Illustrative Programme

According to the European Commission in its first post Fukushima communication on nuclear energy, the Nuclear Illustrative Programme (PINC), any European country, being free to decide its own energy mix, may generate nuclear energy – just as long as they comply with the highest standards of safety, security, waste management and non-proliferation as well as diversify nuclear fuel supplies.

With an average age close to 30 years, Europe’s nuclear fleet is aging and significant investments are needed for reactor lifetime extensions (along with the related safety improvements) and for decommissioning activities and the long-term storage of nuclear waste, as well as for replacing existing nuclear plants.

The total investment to 2050 to support the transformation of the energy system in line with EU strategy is estimated between €3.2 trillion and €4.2 trillion. The PINC estimates that the nuclear fuel cycle will require between €650 billion and €760 billion. Of this between €350 billion and €450 billion would be in new plants to replace most of the existing nuclear power capacity and which could generate electricity until the end of the century.

Nuclear energy and the EU

According to the PINC Europe’s nuclear industry directly employs between 400,000 and 500,000 persons, while facilitating around 400,000 additional jobs.

With an estimated €3 trillion nuclear-related investment needed globally by 2050, much of this in Asia, there is significant technology potential in which the EU must play a leadership role. This includes ongoing activities in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion initiative and research on small modular reactors, which the UK also has recently announced to take on. [Engerati-Nuclear Energy Advances and Offshore Wind Gets Boost In UK]

A more coordinated European approach to the non-power uses of nuclear and radiation technology is also proposed.

Commenting on the PINC, Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, explains that it brings together for the first time an overview of all investment aspects of nuclear energy in a single document.

“Five years after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, Europe has learnt the lessons,” he said. “Together we should be able to identify ways to cooperate across Europe to ensure that knowledge about the safest use of nuclear power plants is shared, rather than done separately by each regulator, and that the management of radioactive waste is secured financially by member states until its final disposal.”

The PINC is a requirement under the Euratom Treaty.

Further reading

EC: Nuclear Illustrative Programme