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No nuclear power ‘renaissance’ as Europe wrestles energy crisis

“Most efforts right now are based on developing renewables, that’s what you can see in the European strategy in response to the Russian crisis,” “Nuclear is still not a shared solution in Europe.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine sparks incremental shifts in divisive issue, but no major pivot seven months into fighting.

Aljazeera, By Joseph Stepansky 6 Oct 20226

Nuclear power, and the heavy safety baggage it carries, has long divided European opinion, with individual countries charting vastly divergent paths on the industry’s role in future energy sustainability and security plans.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has again brought the atomic question to the fore, as nations scrambled for short-term solutions before winter sets in, as well as longer-term safeguards, to avoid similar energy upheavals in the years ahead.

But after eight months of fighting in Ukraine, and an energy crisis compounded most recently by the alleged sabotage of the arterial Nord Stream 1 and 2 Russia-to-Europe pipelines in the Baltic Sea, European governments long opposed to nuclear power have shown only incremental shifts in their attitudes, which have been informed by years of concerns about nuclear waste and safety.

A wider pivot has remained absent…………………..

Mark Hibbs, a Germany-based non-resident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “I don’t see a major [nuclear power] watershed from what’s happening in Ukraine.”

Instead, the situation has reinforced some trends among countries already bought into nuclear energy, he said, while slowing some opponents’ phase-outs of the technology.

Europe’s nuclear hesitancy

Opposition to nuclear power, coupled with other factors, has created a 25 percent overall decline in electricity produced by splitting atoms in the 27-country European Union from 2006 to 2020, according to the bloc’s executive wing, the European Commission.

By 2020, the EU produced 24 percent of the bloc’s overall electricity from nuclear plants, with 13 countries operating nuclear reactors: France, Belgium, Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Countries that already have nuclear power capacity, according to Hibbs, are likely to face the greatest demands in light of the conflict in Ukraine, particularly as typically 30- to 40-year power plant licences begin to expire.

“There will be pressure on European governments and industry to continue operating their nuclear power plants,” he said, adding that pressure will grow as the conflict stretches on…………………………………….

More recently, Greenpeace, an organisation that has long opposed nuclear power, has pointed to fighting around the Russian-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine as an example of the ever-present danger of relying on nuclear as an energy source.

Denmark, Ireland and Serbia, countries that do not have nuclear power industries, have longstanding bans on developing the technology. Others, such as Greece, have avoided the technology for fear of natural disasters……………………………………………………………………………………..

No short-term solutions

Still, a more immediate pivot has been widely constrained by the reality that nuclear power’s ability to address Europe’s short-term energy challenges is “fairly limited”, according to Cobb.

“And the reason for that is, in most countries, nuclear operates in a baseload mode. So, it is already the case that nuclear plants tend to operate full-time,” he said. “They’re not like gas plants that operate at a peaking load, producing electricity, when demand is at the highest. They’re always operating”.

Meanwhile, developing new nuclear facilities remains a daunting, costly and years-long ambition, with a high barrier of entry, IDDRI’s Berghmans said.

“It’s a complex industry,” he said. “You need big infrastructure. You need to plan where you can put these facilities. You need nuclear know-how, which is not as widespread as it used to be in Europe.”

Proponents of new generation small modular reactors (SMRs), which can be built off-site and transported, have said the new technology could offer more efficient and cheaper development, although the plants are still years away from operating and have raised their own unique safety concerns.

And while nuclear power analysts have said the nuclear supply chain is generally more stable and easier to reroute than that of many fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, it does not come without its own Russia problems.


In 2020, EU utilities imported about 20 percent of their natural uranium, the fundamental resource needed to produce nuclear energy, from Russia. The bloc also received 26 percent of its enrichment services, the required process of altering uranium’s makeup before it can be used to create energy, from Russia, according to the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine also currently operate Russian-made nuclear reactors, raising questions about their long-term needs for specific Russian-made parts and services, according to an analysis by Matt Bowen and Paul Dabbar of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

To date, Russia’s nuclear industry has broadly escaped Western sanctions.

Recent outages at French power plants, because of maintenance, corrosion problems and heat stresses, have also reinforced longstanding hesitancy towards nuclear power, according to Carole Nakhle, the founder of the Crystol Energy consulting organisation.

“Mind you, one of the problems that the EU faced that made the current crisis even worse were the nuclear outages in France,” she told Al Jazeera. “France, which usually exports electricity, had to import this year because its power plants couldn’t keep up.”

Given the myriad challenges that continue to surround nuclear, governments are more likely to see renewable energies, such as wind and photovoltaic energy, as “more economical” alternatives to energy security and sustainability, according to Berghmans.

“Most efforts right now are based on developing renewables, that’s what you can see in the European strategy in response to the Russian crisis,” he said. “Nuclear is still not a shared solution in Europe.”

 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/6/europe-sees-shift-in-attitudes-no-nuclear-power

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October 7, 2022 - Posted by | EUROPE, politics

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