Nuclear power will be a key part of the future energy mix if the European Union's ambitious 2020 carbon dioxide reduction targets are to be met, according to Matthias Ruete, director general of the European Commission's Transport and Energy directorate.
Speaking to independent media portal EurActiv, Ruete departed from the traditional reticence of the European Commission (EC) on nuclear power as a viable low-carbon energy source. Describing nuclear as one of three legs - along with "clean" fossil fuels and carbon sequestration and storage - supporting future CO2-free energy production in the European Union (EU), Ruete highlighted concerns that an increase in renewable energy use alone would struggle to help reduce carbon emissions. "If we phase out nuclear, we may in the end only be compensating the phasing-out of nuclear by renewables, so we will not actually make the gains we want to in terms of CO2," he said.
Increasing costs and public scepticism were making it doubtful whether carbon capture and storage (CCS) would be commercially viable in time to help meet emissions reduction targets. "The more we work on CCS the more we realise it is actually very expensive," Ruete said.
Other high-ranking EU commissioners have recently spoken out in favour of nuclear energy. Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes' declaration of her personal support for nuclear energy drew criticism from Greens within the European Parliament, who questioned her impartiality.
The EC's January 2007 Strategic Energy Review concluded that a diverse portfolio of low-emission energy technologies will be needed to meet CO2 reduction challenges. Renewables were identified as central to the portfolio, but support for "clean" fossil fuels and the continued use of nuclear also featured. In March 2007, EU leaders agreed to reduce the bloc's CO2 emissions by at least 20% by 2020.
Meanwhile, a panel of experts from the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told European Parliament members that to avoid catastrophic climate change, world temperature must not be allowed to increase by more than 2 degrees C, which would mean carbon emission increases would need to be halted by 2015. This would mean a 50% global reduction of emissions - 85% for industrialized countries - below 1990 levels by 2050.
The meeting was held in advance of a United Nations meeting due to take place in December, when the parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which sets out emissions reduction commitments up to 2012, are to meet. Keynote speaker John Ashton, of the UK Foreign Office, said looking beyond 2012, the world economy should be zero-carbon by the end of the century. The key problem, said Ashton, was not a lack of wisdom, but a lack of political will to build the policies needed to tackle climate change.
United Nations ClimateChange Conference
WNA's Policy Responses to GlobalWarming information paper
WNN: EUmust face nuclear energy question, says EC president