Energy: nuclear power returns to center stage in Europe

Energy: nuclear power returns to center stage in Europe

Posted Dec 21 2022 at 6:30 am

“My conviction is that all the major industrial nations in Europe, including those which have made a different choice, will return one day or another, near or far, to nuclear energy. »

Having come to celebrate the relaunch of French nuclear power alongside the new boss of EDF Luc Rémont in Penly, in Normandy, at the beginning of December, the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire made himself the apostle of a relaunch of nuclear power on the Old continent. If this is not yet dazzling, several signs show the beginnings of it since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian electroshock

The Netherlands and Sweden have successively announced new projects for the construction of nuclear power plants. For these two countries, these announcements mark a profound reversal of their energy policy.

In Sweden, the previous government had adopted a roadmap which aimed to achieve 100% electricity produced by renewable energies by 2040. In the Netherlands – which at this stage only have of a nuclear power plant which dates from 1973 and which is due to close in 2033 – the subject is an old bone of contention within the ruling coalition, but the war in Ukraine has, it seems, had the effect of an electric shock.

“By adding nuclear to our energy mix, we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions linked to electricity production and we will make ourselves less dependent on the countries where these fossil fuels come from,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte. , which is not unaware that coal consumption in the world has reached a record level and that the war unleashed by Russia in Ukraine risks having a lasting impact on Europe’s supply of Russian gas.

Made with Flourish

In Europe, other countries had already opted for a frank revival of the atom, even before the invasion of Ukraine, and are continuing on this path. France, with its project to build six EPR-type reactors, but also Poland, which wants to build 6 to 9 GW of nuclear power by 2043, or even the United Kingdom, which notably wants to duplicate the reactors built at Sizewell by EDF in Somerset from Hinkley Point C.

Gas pointed at

Germany or Belgium have not gone so far and have simply postponed the date of the closure of their power stations as a matter of urgency. But the political symbol of this reversal – in particular for Germany, which has made the exit from the atom a cornerstone of its energy policy – is notable.

“This crisis revealed that the massive use of gas was in fact implicit with the massive use of renewable energies. In addition to wind and solar energy, there is gas to produce baseload electricity and ensure security of supply,” said François Morin, China director at the professional association World Nuclear Association (WNA ).

However, the road to recovery is still very long and winding. By reinforcing the attractiveness of the atom, the war in Ukraine has also confirmed Europe’s break with the two main leaders in the construction of nuclear power plants in the world, Russia and China.

For the United Kingdom, this greatly complicates the financial equation of its new projects for which the State has now undertaken to seek investors to invest alongside it.

China above the lot

“In the current context of energy crisis and soaring fossil fuel prices, nuclear power can come back to the fore, but this is by no means guaranteed. This will depend on the ability of governments and the nuclear industry to mobilize the necessary investments and to quickly deal with the issues of budget overruns and serial delays”, argued in recent months Fatih Birol, the director general of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

It also points to the loss of leadership of European countries in this area: 27 of the 31 reactors whose construction has been launched since 2017 have a Chinese or Russian design. To date, China has the most ambitious nuclear program.

In its projections for 2030, the agency estimates that the share of nuclear power in the global electricity mix must remain close to its current level of 10% because new projects will not be enough to compensate for the shutdown of the many reactors that arrived in end of life.

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