EU must help nuclear get ‘back on track’

The lack of sufficient emphasis on nuclear in the EU's energy security strategy is a mistake, warns Evžen Tošenovský.

By Evžen Tošenovský

21 Oct 2014

The European Union is currently in a period of transition, with the newly elected European parliament going through the hearings of designated commissioners to agree on president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker's  team. During these hearings I raised the question on nuclear energy and its role in the upcoming five years.

Even though the council has recently adopted the nuclear safety directive, increasing the safety demands of nuclear power plants, the trust in nuclear seems to remain in decline. As a shadow rapporteur I had been closely following the adoption of parliament’s position before the end of last legislative term. At this stage, the directive is being implemented by member states and therefore sufficient time should be given in particular to national regulators. There is no doubt; the top level of nuclear safety must remain a priority for the EU. Nevertheless I am of the position that the commission should not receive any further competences at the expense of member states, nor come up with new legislative proposals without in depth evaluation of the measures that are to be implemented.

Nuclear energy is an important low-carbon energy source and plays an important role in a significant number of member states. As regards its legal basis, it must be treated uniquely compared to other energy sources. The Euratom treaty provides for a stable framework under which appropriate legislative instruments are put forward. In general, nuclear energy should be seen from different point of views such as historical and other reasons. However, it should be treated equally to renewable energy sources because every member state relies on different means of energy production and it is up to each member state to decide on its own energy mix. There is still the important fact that nuclear energy is an independent source of energy that is not linked to any weather forecast. In addition, when Europe decides to pursue climate targets, it is important that this be based on all available low carbon energy sources including nuclear, and not merely on renewables.

"Nuclear energy is an important low-carbon energy source and plays an important role in a significant number of member states"

In April this year, the commission presented a communication on a European energy security strategy. In my opinion not enough space is afforded to nuclear energy. With a tense situation in the east of Europe, questions on energy security are being raised even more strongly. It is my wish that this momentum be used to benefit the development and implementation of new technologies that can helping nuclear power to get back on track.

Last but not least, with a lot of interest I followed the situation around the planned state aid envisaged for the new nuclear power plant Hinkley Point C in the UK. According to a final decision announced this week by competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, the project is suffering from genuine market failure and as such is eligible for state aid. I consider this decision to be an important step forward. Nuclear energy could return to a level of economic viability and I am glad that it will be the strong UK economy testing whether this solution is future-proof. Finally, it might also serve as breakthrough for other member states, including my own country the Czech Republic, which are planning to build their own new nuclear reactors.

 

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