Europe looks to boost energy security

29 May 2014

Nuclear power enhances energy security and should be expanded with support from a variety of fuel suppliers, said a European Commission (EC) study.

The EC has responded to the tensions in Ukraine in the context of previous gas supply disruptions that followed disputes between that country and Russia, which supplies 39% of the EU's gas and over 30% of its oil.

A study on the EU-wide energy security status of all energy forms and from all suppliers was released yesterday and will be discussed by the heads of EU governments in June. Written by EC staff, it calls for a common European energy policy and for the EU to communicate on energy with 'one voice'. It suggests the EC observe major fuel import deals made by one member state that could affect another.

The study recommended completing various existing projects such as the internal energy market and some 33 infrastructure developments, mainly upgrades to gas and electricity grids to improve flows.

Increasing the use of nuclear power was recommended, as was continued growth in renewables and the production of fossil fuels where this can be done sustainably.

Nuclear fuel diversity

Some 131 reactors operate in 14 EU countries and these were noted as a reliable source for 27% of electricity. Although 95% of uranium is imported, and the services of conversion and enrichment are carried out globally, there is a wide spread of suppliers for these as well as a high level of European equity in those enterprises. In addition, the Euratom Supply Agency exists to ensure a reliable supply of uranium for EU needs.

The study noted that nuclear operators can use more than one supplier for the manufacturing process of forming enriched uranium pellets into finished nuclear fuel assemblies that can be loaded into a reactor. The only exception are the ten VVER-440 reactors in Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia which have only been able to purchase fuel assemblies from Rosatom subsidiary TVEL since a Westinghouse production line was closed down in 2008.

The EC said, "Ideally, diversification of [VVER] fuel assembly manufacturing should also take place, but this would require some technological efforts because of the different reactor designs (VVER-440 and VVER-1000)." While TVEL is the only supplier for VVER-440 fuel manufacturing, it is joined in VVER-1000 fuel manufacturing by Westinghouse. TVEL is a Rosatom subsidiary based in Russia and manufacturing there, while US-based Westinghouse is Japanese-owned and has production facilities there as well as in Sweden and the UK.

The study said "an overall diversified portfolio of fuel supply is needed for all plant operators," but went further on new reactors. It suggested that "the possibility of fuel diversification needs to be a condition for any new investment" and said the Euratom Supply Agency could be in charge of ensuring this. This potential condition appears to apply only to the VVER-1200 unit planned by Fennovoima for Hanhikivi in Finland, as the two VVER-440 units being completed in Slovakia were granted approval several years ago.

The leaders of the EU's 28 member states will discuss the report in a European Council meeting in June.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News