Nuclear's role in EU's energy plans recognised

13 November 2008

The European Commission (EC) has published its second Strategic Energy Review, proposing a wide-ranging energy package that gives a new boost to energy security in Europe, supporting the '20-20-20' climate change proposals.

The EC's first Strategic Energy Review, released in January 2007, concluded that a diverse portfolio of low-emission energy technologies will be needed to meet carbon dioxide (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, by which time 20% of energy is to come from renewables. The EC expects these proposals to be agreed by December.

The second Strategic Energy Review puts forward a new strategy to build up energy solidarity among EU member states and a new policy on energy networks to stimulate investment in more efficient, low-carbon energy networks. It also proposes an Energy Security and Solidarity Action Plan to secure sustainable energy supplies in the EU and looking at the challenges that Europe will face between 2020 and 2050.

In addition, the review calls for the adoption of a package of energy efficiency proposals aimed at making energy savings in key areas, such as reinforcing energy efficiency legislation on buildings and energy-using products.

EC president José Manuel Barroso commented: "The proposals adopted today represent an unequivocal statement of the commission's desire to guarantee secure and sustainable energy supplies, and should help us deliver on the crucial 20-20-20 climate change targets."

Energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs added, "The EU has come together as never before to deal with climate change, high energy prices and energy security. But we have to do more, be more ambitious, and be even bolder to avoid the risk of energy disruption in the future."

Nuclear's role

The document notes that over the next 10-20 years most of the EU's nuclear power plants will reach the end of their originally designed lifetimes. It says, "By 2020 the share of nuclear energy in power generation would decrease significantly if there are no decisions made about new investments. Decisions about lifetime extension, new investments or replacement become more acute, notably in light of the EU CO2 reduction objective."

As part of the energy package, the EC has updated its 2007 Nuclear Illustrative Programme (PINC), proposing that "future construction uses the latest technology; ensuring the highest standards of nuclear safety, as well as simplifying and harmonizing the currently differing licensing requirements and procedures in EU member states."

The EC said, "Nuclear energy plays an important role in the transition to a low carbon economy and reduces EU external supply dependency." However, it added, "The choice to include nuclear energy in the energy mix lies with the member states. Nevertheless, it should be noted that if strategic investment decisions about power generation capacities in nuclear as well as in renewable energy are taken rapidly, nearly two-thirds of EU's electricity generation could be low carbon in the early 2020s."

The EC warns, "The strategic investment choices for the generation of electricity will have an impact for decades on CO2 emissions, competitiveness and security of supply in the EU."

The updated PINC addresses some of the key issues that were raised in recent debates by the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Parliament and the European Nuclear Energy Forum. The EC said that these included the link between nuclear energy and security of supply, with a special focus on the investment needs (for extending the life of old plant or their replacement) and the security of supply of nuclear fuels.

In addition, the updated PINC considers the role of public authorities with emphasis in the EU on nuclear safety and waste management. It also addresses the importance of public acceptance of nuclear energy and factors influencing it.

With regards the supply of nuclear fuel, the PINC concludes, "Security of supply of nuclear fuels cannot be taken for granted, especially should there be a rapid increase in global demand due to an expansion of nuclear power programmes. However, the situation is better than for fossil fuels, due to the wide ranging availability of uranium and the possibility to recycle nuclear materials several times."