EU must support extended use of reactors, says Foratom

20 June 2018

Foratom, the European nuclear trade body, has called on the European Commission and other EU institutions to recognise and reward the long-term operation (LTO) of nuclear power reactors in their role to help Europe meet its climate targets.

There are 126 operational power reactors in 14 EU Member States, providing more than one-quarter of the bloc's total electricity production. In its Communication on the Nuclear Illustrative Program (PINC) published last year, the European Commission expects nuclear to maintain its significant role in Europe's energy mix up to 2050. This would require investment of some EUR40-50 billion (USD46-58 billion) in nuclear LTO by 2050. However, the Commission has warned that as many as 50 reactors in the EU are at risk of early closure over the next ten years, assuming their operators do not pursue LTO licences.

A workshop held in Brussels yesterday - titled Shaping Europe's Energy Mix of the Future: A Role for Nuclear LTO - brought together stakeholders from various EU institutions, national regulators and representatives from the nuclear industry. Invited speakers discussed the current status of LTO and its role in Europe's future energy mix, the industry's needs and challenges, the contribution of LTO to securing energy supply in the EU and combatting climate change, its role in preserving nuclear expertise and maintaining highly-skilled jobs, and the impact of LTO on national economies.

Foratom Director General Yves Desbazeille said: "Nuclear LTO pays off for a number of reasons. It incurs low capital investment costs, requires a relatively short realisation time for upgrade works and - most of all – it enables a reliable, low-carbon and affordable source of electricity to be retained in the mix at lowest cost." He added, "If the European Union wants to meet its climate goals, nuclear LTO will play an indispensable role in the EU's future energy mix. Therefore, the EU institutions should recognise and reward it with incentives for the benefits it brings to the system."

Desbazeille warned that the early closure of 50 reactors would translate into slowing down significantly the decarbonisation of Europe, maintaining CO2 emissions at the current level and losing the equivalent of around seven years of renewable energy expansion.

As an example, he said Germany is set to miss its 2020 emission targets by a wide margin due to its decision to phase out the use of nuclear energy. "If the country had decided in 2011 to phase out 20 GW of coal plant capacity instead of nuclear, it would have reached its emission targets and now it could be rightly recognised as the European climate champion."

In a position paper on LTO - published in 2014 - Foratom said: "Nuclear new build plans announced by EU Member States, together with LTO to 60 years for plants currently operating already equates to 20% of the EU's 2050 projected electricity demand being met by nuclear power."

"The case for long-term operation is robust," the paper said. The operating nuclear power plants "are an important asset for Europe, strongly contributing to final energy price moderation, security of supply, CO2 emissions reductions and employment." However, it warned that "clear energy policy and political support are a prerequisite".

Once nuclear power plants have reached the end of their nominal licensed operating life, they must undergo special safety reviews and ageing assessments of their essential structures, systems and components to validate or renew their operating licence for terms beyond the service period originally intended. Some countries have given a high priority to extend the designed lifetime of their reactors from 40 years to 60 or 80 years.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News