With the average age of European Union (EU) nuclear plants now at around 30 years, bringing enough new capacity online to match that lost through the closure of old nuclear plants will present a major challenge, writes Stephen Tarlton.
Currently, 131 nuclear power reactors with a combined capacity of around 122 GWe operate in 14 EU member states. This accounts for over one-quarter of the electricity generated across all of the EU's 28 member states. Half of the EU's nuclear electricity is produced in only one country, namely France.
But with the French government planning to cap nuclear capacity at its current level of around 63 GWe, along with the politically-motivated decisions by two member states (Germany and Belgium) to exit nuclear power over the next decade, a decline in EU capacity up to around 2030 is all but inevitable.
Without the establishment of so-called Generation III nuclear technology in the EU, the sector will continue to decline, and consequently there will be little chance of the EU's climate and energy security targets being met
In order to reverse this expected short-term decline, the new generation of nuclear reactor designs needs to be firmly established in the EU. Today, nuclear plant construction is underway in only three EU member states – Finland, France and Slovakia (although the reactors under construction in Slovakia are Russian VVER-440 units, a design that is unlikely to be built again). Beyond these units, the countries that are most likely to have additional new nuclear units in operation by 2030 are Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. Though less likely, further new units by 2030 might also be seen in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
According to a new report titled New Nuclear in Europe – 2030 Outlook by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the outcome of the nuclear projects in these 13 countries – but especially the two EPRs currently under construction in Finland and France, along with the planned new reactors in Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United Kingdom – will determine whether the expected short-term decline in the EU's nuclear industry will be reversed.
At a time when the EU is expecting to make dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as ensure security of energy supply within the region, it is essential that this small number of nuclear projects planned over the next few years comes to fruition. Without the establishment of so-called Generation III nuclear technology in the EU, the sector will continue to decline, and consequently there will be little chance of the EU's climate and energy security targets being met.
Meanwhile, in those European countries that are not EU member states, the outlook is more positive for nuclear. To 2030, several new nuclear projects – mainly for Russian VVER reactors – are likely to be completed in Belarus, Russia, Turkey and still perhaps Ukraine. Construction of new reactors is currently underway in Belarus as well as in Russia, where six VVER units are now being built.
New Nuclear in Europe – 2030 Outlook concludes that there are essentially two Europes: non-EU European countries where new Russian VVER units are deployed in increasing numbers; and EU member states, which will struggle to maintain the current level of nuclear capacity until the new generation of Western nuclear technology has been firmly established.
While the deployment of new VVERs might flatter figures for nuclear capacity in Europe over the next few years, the nuclear industry should not lose sight of the situation within the EU. Member state governments, along with the nuclear industry, need to act now to ensure that nuclear helps the EU meet its environmental and energy security targets.
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Stephen Tarlton is a Writer & Analyst with the World Nuclear Association. He is the author of WNA's report, New Nuclear In Europe - 2030 Outlook, released today. It is available free of charge to WNA Members, or at the price of £275 to non-members.