German Greens MEP calls for quick phase-out of nuclear energy

Jutta Paulus was speaking at an online event focusing on safety issues surrounding the construction of new nuclear reactor plants in Belarus, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Feb 2021

The Brussels press club event on Friday was told that while the new nuclear plants in Turkey and Belarus are well advanced “it is still not too late” to halt construction of the plant in Uzbekistan.

Paulus, speaking at “The new Chernobyls on Europe’s doorstep,” said she welcomed the chance to discuss “this important subject.”

The conference comes just ahead of the tenth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. It is timely as Parliament also discussed the issue last week and is expected to approve a resolution on nuclear energy at its next plenary.

Paulus recalled hearing about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, saying, “I was in my last year at school when I got the news. The ministry of home affairs said there was no problem but that was not the case at all. Until then I thought nuclear energy was safe, but I saw then that it is not and that if we don’t handle it carefully things can get really out of control.”

“There are 400 nuclear power plants globally and most are over 30 years of age and will probably not run for much longer. Think of a car that is 30 years old. There are very few still on the road so we should pay attention to our old nuclear fleet which will become ever more difficult to operate as the years go by.”

“Remember too that these 400 plants provide less than 10 percent of the world’s electricity. By a simple calculation, to keep that 10 percent we would have to build at least 50 nuclear reactors per year, that is, one a week, to take account of rising energy demand.”

“The only country building at scale is China but it takes eight years to build a nuclear reactor.”

She said it was announced last week that the costs at the new nuclear plant at Hinckley Point in the UK are rising rapidly, adding, “This shows we must keep costs in mind.”

“We should not rely on nuclear plants: they are not delivering energy security. People must understand this and that nuclear can lead to a devastating disaster” Jutta Paulus, Greens/EFA

“Even with large EU funds available we should take care about how we use this money. We should use it wisely and in a sustainable way. We can do that by producing clean energy at scale, for example, wind and solar power, which can be done much more quickly than nuclear power.”

“I am confident renewables can do the trick and the costs of this are coming down. Producing one watt of solar electricity used to cost €2,000 but now it is €750.”

“We can use the energy that comes from the sky - it is called the sun - and turn it to energy, but industry needs a clear signal from policymakers like us that this will happen.”

“In the nuclear industry we are seeing costs rise, not fall. There is also the safety issue. Some say that if you build one nuclear plant you are safe forever. Sorry, but you are not, and this is a reason why we should not rely on nuclear plants: they are not delivering energy security. People must understand this and that nuclear can lead to a devastating disaster.”

She said, “We have to decarbonise quickly and to do so we should use cost efficient renewables and not waste a single euro on nuclear.”

On the new Belarus plant, she said, “The EU must say it will not grant Belarus access to EU markets if Belarus refuses to allow us to inspect their nuclear plants, as is the case now.”

“You must remember that Russia has a great interest in keeping Belarus close to Russia, so Belarus probably paid very little for this new nuclear plant. That is probably why it was deployed and built in the first place.”

Stephen Komarnycky, a Latvian journalist with an interest in the nuclear sector, told the debate, “The EU must demand closure of these new plants and move to renewable energy. They are dangerous and threaten the health of all citizens in Belarus and the EU.”

“The safety problem of the Ostrovets plant is a common problem which concerns the geopolitical security of the Union and the health of our citizens and our environment. A severe accident here could affect one third of the Lithuanian population” Michèle Rivasi, Greens/EFA

Further comment came from French Greens MEP Michèle Rivasi, who said the Belarus plant was “an illustration that our nuclear safety culture is not doing well.”

Following the Fukushima disaster, the European radiation protection authorities reassessed the sheltering areas and the ingestion of stable iodine tablets up to 100km. But Belarus’s Ostrovets nuclear power plant was built 20 kilometers from the Lithuanian border, 50 kilometers from its capital Vilnius, she said.

“In addition, it will use the Néris river to cool its reactors… while these same waters supply, further down, Vilnius with drinking water. Finally, seismic activity in the sector has been documented in this border region of the European Union.”

“The location is unsuitable and this poses many management and safety problems. These include safety deficiencies identified by EU experts during EU stress tests in 2018; the lack of answers to questions about the site’s suitability; violations of international conventions and lack of concrete measures to address the significant safety deficiencies.”

She added, “The EU must take up this issue. The safety problem of the Ostrovets plant is a common problem which concerns the geopolitical security of the Union and the health of our citizens and our environment. A severe accident here could affect one third of the Lithuanian population and contaminate up to 90 percent of drinking water in Lithuania.”

“As with Chernobyl, there is a lack of transparency. Information is difficult to filter out of Ostrovets and it took all the pressure from the EU to get the Belarusian authorities to acknowledge in May 2016 that an accident had occurred a month earlier.”

She added, “While nuclear power is in decline in most countries of the world, Russia's state-owned Rosatom is exerting strong political pressure on Central and Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Finland and Lithuania.”

“The new reactor is supposed to reduce Belarusians’ dependence on gas sold by Russia, except that they create a new dependence, since all nuclear fuel comes from Russia.”

She said, “The Ostrovets plant is not just an isolated bilateral issue between Lithuania and its neighbouring country; it is a matter common to the whole of Europe. In this context, several MEPs are supporting Lithuania to enforce safety standards and to extend its national law banning imports of electricity from unsafe nuclear power plants to third countries. The deterioration of the EU's single electricity market must be protected against imports of electricity produced in unsafe nuclear installations.”

Moderator Natalia Richardson, a former Euronews correspondent, said there had been a proliferation of nuclear energy in Europe, both inside Europe and outside, including in Belarus and noted that the Parliament’s industry committee had discussed the issue last Thursday.

She said, “Nuclear power is fundamentally the wrong way to go and is not a reliable source of energy, but Belarus has proposed two new nuclear plants, both with a Russian company involved.”

“Nuclear is out of date, unsafe and dangerous. Coal is being phased out and we should move to renewable energy which is clean.”

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