Along with United States and Japan, Europe has a concentration of nuclear power plants, so any turn regarding the role of nuclear power in energy policy would change the scenario completely.
There is controversy around this technology about using it to generate electricity due to its advantages and disadvantages, both of great weight and balanced making hard to see which one should be more considered. On the one hand, nuclear energy is an energy source that guarantees electricity supply, does not emit CO2, reduce foreign energy dependence and produces electricity in a consistentmanner with stable and predictable prices.
In the other hand, it involves high fixed costs, majorly in the start-up of the reactors, but also in maintenance and dismantling of units. The generation of nuclear waste and its difficult management (because it takes many years to lose its radioactivity and endangerment) is a significant drawback of using of this technology. Without leaving behind the biggest drawback, which is the risk of nuclear accidents and radioactive contamination. (Recall Fukushima 2011 and Chernobyl 1986)
In fact due to Fukushima the world nuclear production fell by 7% in 2012 compared to 2011 and 10% compared to 2010, as well as:
– Japan stopped all reactors and only work one or two, depending on the time and the closure of 14 reactors and the abandonment of the construction of two.
– Germany closed eight reactors and decides to recover the plan of closing down its reactors after 32 years.
– Switzerland decides to close its nuclear they meet 40 years, even though the nuclear contribution to its electricity mix is 40%.
– Italy votes no to a possible renaissance of nuclear energy.
– Bulgaria leaves two reactors under construction.
– Brazil, India, Russia and the US have canceled several projects.
– China, Armenia and the US has delayed construction of new reactors.
The first Centrals built in the 60-70s were designed to operate for 40 years. However, designs from the third generation last more than a century, as well as those are more secure, efficient and produce less waste.
The EU current nuclear generating capacity
The EU is the largest importer of energy in the world, imports 53% of its energy, which is around 400 billion cost in €. In 2014, 26.9% of electricity consumed in the EU was from nuclear origin, 40.5% of fossil fuels, hydroelectric had a share of 18.5% and 14.4% were from other renewables.
Currently in February 2016, there are a total of 185 nuclear power plants operating in Europe with a net capacity installed of 162.507 MW and 16 reactors (14,810 MW) that are under construction in six countries. Half of the EU nuclear electricity is produced in a single country which is France. Outside the EU, Russia, Ukraine and Switzerland have 55 reactors in operation, which represents approximately 29% of the electricity consumed in the rest of Europe.
At the energy policy level, the European Commission launched in February a plan to create a European Union of energy, which aims to define a clear strategy for EU members defining the main axes as:
- Improvement of the security of energy supply
- Build a single energy market
- Increase of energy efficiency
- Reduction of emissions release to the atmosphere
- Encouragement of research and innovation
The current situation rises many questions about the future like: will nuclear power compete with natural gas? Will nuclear power play a role in our security of supply? Are there enough alternatives to this technology?
In order to limit the increase of global average temperature above 2° C before the end of the century, limit established at the Summit in Paris, was decreed to reduce CO2 emissions, related to energy, to more than half by 2050 (compared to 2009).
With this, the International Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency have established a roadmap where:
- It is required a mix of technologies including nuclear, capture and storage of carbon, and renewable energy to achieve the overall goal of decarbonization.
- The proportion of nuclear power in the world’s electricity production is expected to increase from the current 11% to 17% in 2050. i.e., the global installed capacity has to grow from current levels of 396 GW to 930 GW in 2050.
- Renewable energy should account for the largest share of production by 65%.
Where forecasts indicate that:
- The high proportion of renewable variables, which reaches more than 40% in some countries will significantly change the operating environment of nuclear power.
- The Republic of Korea and the countries of the East will increase the nuclear share within its mix in 60% and 55%, respectively.
- The proportion of nuclear power in the three largest producers are: China (19%), India (18%) and the United States (17%).
Despite this perspective of “Re nuclearization” of Eastern Europe and much of Asia, the renewable energy’s emergence by 2030 helped by the shutting down of a number of reactors will be a hard competitor against nuclear development. Nevertheless, nuclear power is the only available source currently capable of supplying large amounts of electricity without affecting global warming.
In a scenario of energy growth, the choice of the mix of technologies is crucial to achieve the objectives of security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness. Nuclear power, like the rest of technologies, can offer a substantial participation to the system as a safe, reliable and competitive source of energy. Likewise, the RAID on the demand curve permits more energy base and nuclear energy can win positions against other technologies in the definition of the generation mix.
The conditions that have to be given to make this type of energy more or less attractive tend to be more dependent on the socio-economic environment than the technology itself. The debate about it is occurring around the world and many Governments are beginning to bet again on the construction of nuclear power plants in order to reduce the energy bill and improve the security of supply.
Sonia Díaz | Energy Consultant