Nuclear energy has a key role to play in Europe's low-carbon future. Here's why...

6 November 2019

Yves Desbazeille

Director General

FORATOM

The European Union is currently in the midst of an important transition period. After the European Parliamentary elections, the new European Commission is being formed with Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen at the helm. On many occasions, Mrs. von der Leyen has underlined that one of her top priorities would be making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent. Her plan aims at to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2030. To this end, Mrs. von der Leyen has entrusted Frans Timmermans with the role of Executive Vice President for the “European Green Deal”, which is touted to become “Europe’s hallmark”. Reviewing the way Europe produces electricity will be definitely one of Mr. Timmermans’ main tasks.

What does it mean for nuclear energy?

Well, if the EU is serious about climate change, EU decision makers must make use of all the best tools available today. The “European Green Deal” has to be bold and far reaching, but it cannot ignore the contribution of low-carbon nuclear energy, which is capable of addressing EU climate and energy objectives. Without keeping the existing nuclear fleet in operation and adding new capacity, the EU won’t reach these goals as having nuclear in the mix offers the only realistic pathway.

Nuclear energy offers many benefits that other solutions lack. It is a flexible and dispatchable source of energy, which reduces the environmental footprint of the power sector (air pollution, land, resource use). In addition, nuclear provides security of energy supply. A cost-effective energy transition will require a share of dispatchable nuclear generation that remains significant when the share of variable renewables increases. Finally, nuclear energy offers macro-economic improvements, as maintaining nuclear capacity has a positive impact on the economy (contribution to GDP, jobs, etc.).

Taking all these elements into account, the future of nuclear energy in the EU can look bright. In its 2050 long-term vision, the Commission has recognised the role nuclear energy has to play by describing it as the “the backbone of a carbon-free European power system, together with renewables”. Now, we have to make sure that this approach is reflected in the policy files which have an impact on the shape of Europe’s carbon-free future (which is not always the case), including the foreseen implementation of the “European Green Deal”.

Without nuclear energy’s contribution, the European Union would most definitely fall short of achieving its ambitious goals.

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