France’s recent decision to lead in boosting nuclear investments and form a nuclear alliance with 10 EU countries while calling on Brussels to categorize nuclear energy as a green energy source could generate conflict among the big powers of Europe, particularly among France and Germany.
Amid the ongoing energy crisis that has seen skyrocketing natural gas, coal and electricity prices, French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to invest €30 billion in green hydrogen and nuclear power with a particular focus on mini nuclear reactors by 2030.
As the energy crisis shakes Europe, analysts say that Macron's new plans for nuclear power investments have much-needed support from the public in the lead-up to the French elections.
The new nuclear investment plans from Paris came almost three years after a draft of the country's new energy plan confirmed that 2035 would be the date to shut down 14 out of 56 nuclear reactors to reduce the share of nuclear in electricity mix to 50%.
France is now turning 360 degrees to boost investments and label nuclear power as a green energy source.
Germany had announced a nuclear phase-out plan after the Fukushima accident that occurred in 2011, and plans to do so before phasing out coal.
-Call to label nuclear clean and affordable
France, which has the largest nuclear capacity of 61,400 megawatts in the European Union, together with nine other countries, including Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland and Croatia, continues to call on the European Commission to label nuclear as green power.
'President Macron’s announcement is the latest in a series of positive developments in Europe. This commitment is particularly welcome because it emphasizes the broad range of applications to which nuclear technologies can be applied, with both new large nuclear reactors and small modular reactors being part of that vision, as well as nuclear playing an important role in hydrogen production,' Sama Bilbao y Leon, director-general of the World Nuclear Association, told Anadolu Agency.
Across Europe, countries are recognizing the vital role of nuclear power in ensuring a clean, affordable and reliable energy supply. In response, ten EU countries have come together to form what they call a 'Nuclear Alliance' committed to using nuclear as 'an affordable, stable and independent energy resource'.
'Those countries include the Czech Republic, which has just enshrined into law its commitment to a new build to expand its existing nuclear generation, and Poland, which is set to become the next new European nation to build its first nuclear power plants,' Bilbao y Leon said, adding that outside of the EU, the UK Prime Minister recently stated that nuclear energy would be a big part of the UK’s baseload supply as it moves to achieve a net zero electricity generation mix.
EU countries account for around 26.7% of the global nuclear capacity totaling 393,226 megawatts, according to the World Nuclear Institute.
The share of nuclear power in the EU's electricity generation is around 25% and 14.5% in the UK.
Germany has currently 8,113 megawatts of installed nuclear capacity to meet 11.3% of its electricity demand from nuclear power plants.
-Nuclear phase-out strategy in stark contrast to climate goals
The German decision to phase out nuclear first and then coal is an exception to the rule in Europe, and according to Bilbao y Leon “such a strategy stands in stark contrast to the drive from the COP26 President to phase out coal as quickly as possible and brings into question any perception of Germany having an environmentally driven energy policy.'
'Next year Germany will shut down the last of its nuclear reactors, more than fifteen years before it plans to close the last of its coal-fired power stations,' she said.
This may be good news to the European countries which are skeptical of a boost in nuclear generation, but Bilbao y Leon explained that where nuclear capacity is retired and not replaced with new nuclear power, it is often replaced with natural gas power plants, as is the case in Belgium.
'This clearly is a backward step in terms of moving towards net-zero, as well as being risky from both the energy security and economic points of view, given the harm being caused to industry and domestic customers-alike by the recent huge increase in gas prices,' she underlined.
However, not all European countries are on board with the ramp-up in nuclear power and some have voiced their opposition to Turkey’s decision to construct its first nuclear power plant.
In response to this criticism, Bilbao y Leon affirmed that there are some loud voices in Europe that oppose nuclear energy wherever it is being built, although she said there is also a growing commitment from those supporting nuclear to ensure that those voices do not unduly influence the debate.
Turkey's first nuclear power plant Akkuyu is under construction in the southeastern province of Mersin, the first unit of which is expected to be online by 2023.
'The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report issued this week identified that many large low-carbon energy infrastructure projects can face opposition, whether nuclear, wind, or solar. But the stakes are too high for such dogmatic opposition to drive the debate,' Bilbao y Leon said, calling for urgent action to make the right long-term decisions to meet the world’s energy needs and protect the future of the planet.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya and Emre Gurkan Abay