Member states in meltdown over energy union's nuclear silence

Written by Sofia Kalogeraki on 23 April 2015 in Special Report
Special Report

A coalition of member states is urging the commission to consider allowing nuclear energy to be eligible for EU financing mechanisms. Sofia Kalogeraki reports.

Despite accounting for the largest individual share of the European Union's domestic production of primary energy, ahead of gas and renewables, nuclear energy has been noticeable for its absence from the European commission's energy union plans. The strategy presented by the commission acknowledges that nuclear energy produces about 30 per cent of the EU's electricity but does not refer to it as part of the EU's low carbon economy. Nuclear is, however, briefly mentioned under the fifth pillar of the energy union, in which the commission stresses that the EU should maintain technological leadership within the nuclear domain.

Nuclear in numbers
• The EU accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s annual nuclear-based electricity generation
• In 2013 nuclear energy accounted for the largest share of EU domestic production of primary energy in 2013 with 29 per cent, ahead of renewables and gas
• The largest producer of nuclear power within the EU28 in 2013 was France, with a 48.3 per cent share of the total, followed by Germany (11.1 percent), the UK (8.1 per cent), Sweden (7.6 per cent) and Spain (6.5 per cent). These five member states accounted for more than 80 per cent of the total amount of electricity generated in nuclear facilities
• Following the disaster in Fukushima, Germany has decided to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022
• Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal do not produce nuclear power at all

This silence on nuclear power in the energy union strategy has caused unease among Europe's nuclear states, which have been pushing for “a package of initiatives to develop a supportive EU framework for safe and sustainable nuclear power”. Prior to the publication of the strategy, energy ministers from eight member states - Romania, France, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK - sent a letter to the EU executive asking it to explore the possibility of applying European financing mechanisms for large infrastructure projects to nuclear development. 

They also asked the commission to bring forward "clear guidance" in its 'Guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020', which are due for revision in 2019. The initiative has reportedly caused a rift between the eight member states and traditionally non-nuclear countries, such as Austria, which in December 2014 stood against the inclusion of nuclear infrastructure in the projects eligible for funding under the €315bn Juncker plan.


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Scepticism has been also expressed by the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament, which argues that the overarching focus of the energy union is to revive nuclear power. The group was also the only one to openly welcome the parliament's budgetary control committee decision in March to not grant a discharge to the EU budget line for the ITER nuclear fusion project, on the grounds that it is "a costly white elephant for which the European taxpayer is being left to foot the bill". S&D MEPs have also argued against the bankrolling of the nuclear industry under the Juncker investment plan and called for the phasing out of subsidies to the sector.

The commission argues that it is the right of each member state to invest in nuclear energy, provided that certain safety and environmental concerns are met. In addition, it pledges to come back with more initiatives related to nuclear investment projects and intensify its efforts to increase the transparency of agreements with third partners. 

A communication on a nuclear illustrative programme, which will describe the status of the sector in the EU, is also set to be presented in 2015.

 

About the author

Sofia Kalogeraki is a consultant for Dods EU monitoring

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