Nuclear energy is one of the main sources of energy in today’s European Union. Currently 14 EU countries use nuclear power plants to produce electrical energy. Together 137 power plant blocks are deployed with total output of more than 125 GW. The produced energy of these plants covers 28.5% of EU’s energy consumption as of 2010. Nuclear power plants are therefore currently a vital component in providing the EU with electric energy. However, after the Fukushima accident in 2011 many started calling for the end of nuclear energy in the EU, thus adding to the discussion started long ago as a result of worries about nuclear disasters and nuclear waste. For instance Germany in direct response to Fukushima accident decided to speed up its planned phase out nuclear power plants by 2022. In the UK on the other hand in October 2013 agreed the construction of the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in twenty years and there may be more to come. The question of what to do with nuclear energy in the European Union is therefore a current debate that affects countries all over the Union. In this debate we will look upon arguments in favour and against closing all nuclear power plants in the EU and substituting them with other forms of energy production. Of course this cannot be done overnight, thus we are dealing with long-term time frame (about a decade).
 European Nuclear Society, ‘Nuclear power plants in Europe’, January 2013, http://www.euronuclear.org/info/encyclopedia/n/nuclear-power-plant-europe.htm
 Eurostat, ‘Energy production and imports’, Europa.eu, August 2012, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Energy_production_and_imports
 Wintour, Patrick, ‘David Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as a big day for Britain’, theguardian.com, 21 October 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/21/britain-nuclear-power-station-hinkley-edf
While nuclear power it is often proclaimed as clean this does not mean it is a renewable resource like wind, wave, or solar power. Nuclear power plants use uranium to produce energy, which, of course, needs to be mined. Currently only 2.3% of uranium used in reactors in EU is mined in the EU. Moreover, the world’s main uranium deposits are located outside the EU. The use of nuclear energy thus undermines energy self-sufficiency of the EU. This may pose a serious threat to the future. Natural (and other) resources are usually used as the first intermediates of diplomatic disputes. When a country wants to exert diplomatic pressure on another country (or bloc of countries like EU), trade bans or embargos are widely used. For example in 2009 Russia stopped gas supply to Ukraine due to trade dispute between their two national gas companies. Therefore, the supply of uranium may be susceptible to diplomatic and trade relations (which are often volatile) and consequently nuclear power may not be reliable. Is it one of the aims of the EU to become less dependent on imported material needed for energy production.
As a non renewable resource we also need to think about the possibility of supplies running out. The concept of ‘peak uranium’ is sometimes overblown but there is only a 230 years supply of uranium at current consumption rates. If the price gets high enough then there are other options for production, including from seawater, but this would clearly mean a big increase in cost and concerns that producers will try to keep cheaper uranium to themselves and export for much higher prices. Thus over longer term the nuclear energy may become far more expensive, or even unavailable due to lack of fuel.
 European Commission, ‘Renewable energy’, Europa.eu, 2013, http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm
 Fetter, Steve, ‘How long will the world’s uranium supplies last?’, Scientific American, 26 January 2009, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last
The main source, or fuel, for production of nuclear energy does not have to be uranium, thorium can be used. While the number of reactors may increase the consumption of uranium may well actually go down as the next generation of reactors will get more energy from the uranium they use. More specifically fourth generation reactors would reuse the uranium multiple times up to the point where they may be more than a hundred times more fuel efficient than current reactors.
Furthermore, uranium is not mined only in one specific country, but in variety of countries (Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Russia, Niger, United States). As we can see, these countries differ from each other in any way – political situation, regime, relationships with other countries etc. Therefore, even in the case of war with one or few countries from where uranium is obtained, the supply can be established from other sources, other countries. Therefore, there is a very little possibility of diplomatic pressure, since uranium can be obtained from variety of sources.
Together with thorium, which can be obtained from countries like India, Turkey, Brazil, EU can be considered as independent from any one source of uranium or thorium.
In order not to harm environment, not to cause climate changes, renewable power plants (wind, water, solar) should be used. However, these do not work together with nuclear power plants. Nuclear plants – giant very hot machines – are designed to operate at full speed (85%) all the time. They are not designed to change the output quickly. Since they are very expensive to build, they are not economic unless operated at full speed (also turning off and on is expensive). Solar and wind power plants are not stable (output varies because of natural factors) and thus need a backup, called a baseload. Nuclear plants are not a good backup for renewables. We need nimble plants in order to support wind and solar plants. Nuclear power stations do not work with solar, wind and water power stations, because they are running at full speed all the time (because of economic and technical reasons). Instead gas plants that can be powered up and down as required are needed to balance power generation. If we want to move towards Green World – nuclear energy does not help us to do so.
It is generally agreed that we want more renewable power generation in Europe even if there are disagreements about where plants should be situated or how much must come from renewable sources. The European Union aims to have 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. And if it is to meet CO2 reduction targets far more will be needed in following decades.
Nuclear is also not as helpful as renewables in meeting these CO2 reduction targets. It is estimated that renewables produce 10-40g of CO2 pre kWh of electricity produced, but nuclear is currently much higher at 90-140g/kWh, though still only a tenth of coal. And as mining becomes more difficult it is estimated that this could double making nuclear no better for reducing CO2 than gas power.
 Nelder, Chris, ‘Why baseload power is doomed’, smartplanet, 28 March 2012, http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/why-baseload-power-is-doomed/445
 European Commission, ‘Directive Of The European Parliament And Of The Council Amending Directive 98/70/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources’, Europa.eu, 17 October 2012, http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/biofuels/doc/biofuels/com_2012_0595_en.pdf
 ‘CO2 emission of electricity from nuclear power stations’, Time for change, May 2012, http://www.timeforchange.org/co2-emission-nuclear-power-stations-electricity
First of all, power plants operating on renewable resources are not as green as one might think. Hydroelectric and tidal power can harm water ecosystems, wind turbines can harm wildlife and solar plants need a large space to be built on and are only really efficient in deserts. Nuclear power stations are relatively green since they do not primary produce any “dirty gases.” The only problem is mining uranium and the nuclear waste, which is increasingly able to be recycled and potentially reused as fuel for more modern nuclear plants.
Furthermore, gas stations are operating with non-renewable source of energy – natural gas. Therefore, when speaking about efficiency -nuclear power stations are generally more effective than gas power stations – it is better for environment to operate on few nuclear power stations rather than on many of gas power stations. Nuclear power stations are not flexible, but they can represent the base of needed energy, which does not fluctuate, and the rest of needed energy which varies in time may be supplied with power plants operating on renewable sources and few power plants operating on other non-renewable sources.
 ‘Cooling power plants’, World Nuclear Association, September 2012, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Cooling-Power-Plants/
 Kirk T. 2007 Physics IB Study Guide, Oxford University Press, p.68
In the response to Fukushima accident European Commission carried out a series of stress tests on nuclear power plants in the EU to minimise the risk of such an accident occurring in the EU. The results were disturbing. According to the report European power plants are not well prepared for an emergency situation. Some of the power plants would have less than hour to restore safety systems in case of electric blackout. Currently more than 100,000 citizens live in proximity (30 km) of 111 reactors. Should anything go wrong, many lives would be endangered. The problems could be resolved by dramatic investments into the safety measures. However, these investments would require approximately €25 bn. This is a sum indebted European Union cannot afford. Therefore shutdown and substitution of these hazardous plants would be a much better idea.
 European Commission, ‘Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the comprehensive risk and safety assessments (“stress tests”) of nuclear power plants in the European Union and related activities’, Europa.eu, 4 October 2012, http://ec.europa.eu/energy/nuclear/safety/doc/com_2012_0571_en.pdf
 Paterson, Tony, ‘Europe’s ‘dangerous’ nuclear plants need €25bn safety refit’, The Independent, 18 November 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/europes-dangerous-nuclear-plants-need-25bn-safety-refit-8196457.html
The essence of the argument may be correct, however, the basis is not. The stress tests were to great extent based on unrealistic threats like strong earthquake (which are extremely rare – almost non-existent in Europe away from the Mediterranean) or crash of big airplane. In these cases truly, lives could be endangered, however, the possibility of these cases ever occurring is nearly zero. Even if some investments in safety measures were needed (like in case of the safety systems in case of blackout) implementation of those would be substantially lower than phasing out nuclear reactors and building a replacement capacity of equal capacity from renewable sources.
The nuclear power plants have huge energy outputs. That means we can produce energy faster at lower price, due to the high energy density of uranium (we can extract far more energy from it than from any other source). Thanks to this fact, there is no need to build many power plants, since a few nuclear plants can easily supply whole country, for example in Slovakia only 2 power plants supply more than half of electric energy. This is beneficial because residents object to having power generation nearby, building one nuclear plant affects many fewer people than the number of wind turbines that would be needed to generate the same amount of electricity. The nuclear power plant being built at Olkiluoto in Finland will produce 13TWh per year equivalent to more than 3000 wind turbines. This has the additional environmental benefit of requiring fewer materials for construction.
 ‘FAQ – Output’, National Wind Watch, http://www.wind-watch.org/faq-output.php, This gives 3.285GWh per year for a turbine which would be more like 4000, but it also states that the wind industry say their turbines work at a higher capacity than that accounted for in their calculation.
Having only one plant also poses a risk that if something goes wrong it creates a high risk of blackout for whole region the plant is supplying. Additionally we need to remember the immense cost of nuclear power plants. Olkiluoto 3 has suffered from immense overruns and spiralling costs which have more than doubled to 8.5 billion Euros. When a wind turbine is about 2.5 million Euros then well over 3,000 turbines can be built for the same cost.
 Koistinen, Olavi, ‘Suomenkin uusi ydinvoimala maksaa 8,5 miljardia euroa’, Helsingin Sanomat, 13 December 2012, http://www.hs.fi/talous/Suomenkin+uusi+ydinvoimala+maksaa+85+miljardia+euroa/a1305627982885
 ‘How much to wind turbines cost’, Windistry, accessed 18 November 2013, http://www.windustry.org/resources/how-much-do-wind-turbines-cost
Historically a lot of the opposition to nuclear power has been about the waste they generate and that it will remain radioactive for tens of millennia. No one therefore wants nuclear waste in their neighbourhood making the pollution from coal and gas plants seem pale by comparison. Yet this is an objection that is increasingly outdated and what had been the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry is being turned into a strength.
The EU has a chance to be a world leader in nuclear power generation. With the fourth generation of nuclear reactors which are much safer than current models and create almost no nuclear waste currently being designed. Moreover an even more advanced nuclear plant, this one based upon fusion rather than fission is currently being built in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southern France. It is an experimental reactor that will not produce any waste at all and could help revolutionise clean power.
Only if Europe continues investing in nuclear power will we be able to realise the dream of completely clean and completely safe nuclear power. This would then benefit the whole world by enabling such clean energy production elsewhere.
The most recent power plants such as Olkiluoto are third generation plants. Fourth generation plants are still decades away. Yes research into Fusion must continue but the plant that is being built is simply a test plant and even it won’t be fully testing until 2027, it would be decades after that before any commercial plants come into operation even if everything works. Research into both types but particularly fusion are separate from the nuclear power plants that Europe currently has. These could all be shut down without any impact on research. Moreover why spend billions on research when we already have technologies that provide clean electricity?
Any phase out of nuclear energy in the EU would be tremendously costly, to an extent indebted Europe cannot afford. First costs stem from closing of nuclear reactors. These would include safely disposing or sealing all radioactive materials involved in production, closing buildings, dismantling the generators etc. In the UK the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimates that 19 nuclear plants in the UK that are set for decommissioning will cost £70 billion. Secondly, new generation of power plants would need to be built. Suitable places would need to be found, land bought and prepared for construction, power plants and electricity network constructed. These alone would cost sums counted in billions of euros regardless of whether these plants are renewable or not. Moreover, social costs would have to be included, since many highly specialised jobs in the nuclear power industry would be irrecoverably lost. The nuclear power industry in the UK alone employs 44,000 people.
 Cogent, ‘Nuclear industry profile’, 2013, http://www.cogent-ssc.com/industry/nuclear/industry_profile.php
The phase out of the nuclear power stations may be costly; however, it will happen sooner or later anyway. Nuclear stations are constantly phased out and new, more advanced plants are built in their place. Old plants require constant investment in safety measures. The costs are thus inevitable. Abandoning nuclear power in many cases need only involve committing to not build more nuclear plants. However, even if the costs of phasing out were higher than costs of sustaining network of nuclear plants, the gain from more safe, more environmental friendly energy would outweigh the harms. Concerning the social costs, workers in nuclear power plants could find jobs in broader energy production market, since the technical requirements for jobs are not that different in different power plants and there would still be demand for jobs in the energy sector.
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European Commission, ‘Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the comprehensive risk and safety assessments (“stress tests”) of nuclear power plants in the European Union and related activities’, Europa.eu, 4 October 2012, http://ec.europa.eu/energy/nuclear/safety/doc/com_2012_0571_en.pdf
European Nuclear Society, ‘Nuclear power plants in Europe’, January 2013, http://www.euronuclear.org/info/encyclopedia/n/nuclear-power-plant-europe.htm
Eurostat, ‘Energy production and imports’, Europa.eu, August 2012, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Energy_production_and_imports
Fetter, Steve, ‘How long will the world’s uranium supplies last?’, Scientific American, 26 January 2009, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last
Hansen, Dr. James, ‘4th Generation Nuclear Power’, OSS, 18 January 2009, http://ossfoundation.us/projects/energy/nuclear
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Kirk T., Physics IB Study Guide, Oxford University Press 2007, p.68
Koistinen, Olavi, ‘Suomenkin uusi ydinvoimala maksaa 8,5 miljardia euroa’, Helsingin Sanomat, 13 December 2012, http://www.hs.fi/talous/Suomenkin+uusi+ydinvoimala+maksaa+85+miljardia+euroa/a1305627982885
‘FAQ – Output’, National Wind Watch, http://www.wind-watch.org/faq-output.php
Nelder, Chris, ‘Why baseload power is doomed’, smartplanet, 28 March 2012, http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/why-baseload-power-is-doomed/445
Paterson, Tony, ‘Europe’s ‘dangerous’ nuclear plants need €25bn safety refit’, The Independent, 18 November 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/europes-dangerous-nuclear-plants-need-25bn-safety-refit-8196457.html
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‘CO2 emission of electricity from nuclear power stations’, Time for change, May 2012, http://www.timeforchange.org/co2-emission-nuclear-power-stations-electricity
‘How much to wind turbines cost’, Windistry, accessed 18 November 2013, http://www.windustry.org/resources/how-much-do-wind-turbines-cost
Wintour, Patrick, ‘David Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as a big day for Britain’, theguardian.com, 21 October 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/21/britain-nuclear-power-station-hinkley-edf
‘Cooling power plants’, World Nuclear Association, September 2012, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Cooling-Power-Plants/