No nuclear energy revival in the EU

Publish date: April 14, 2010

Written by: Veronica Webster

BRUSSEL – A hearing on the risk of a nuclear renaissance in the EU was held at the European Parliament on April 7th. It discussed three projects for new units at existing nuclear power plants that are under planning or construction in Europe. While one project was withdrawn, one was caught in legal entanglements and a third was facing massive cost overruns and delays.

The hearing was co-sponsored by German Member of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms from the Greens, and Finnish Member of the European Parliament Sirpa Pietikainen from the centre-right group EPP, in co-operation with green NGO Friends of the Earth Europe.

Three case studies were examined. The nuclear power plant units Mochovce 3
and 4 in Slovakia were permitted in the 1980s under the socialist regime and were partly built before the project was stopped after the economic changes of the early 1990s. The project has recently been revived, but it is still based on a reactor-design from the early 1970s, and offers, for instance, insufficient protection against plane crashes.

The government first argued that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) required for new permits was not compulsory because a permit had already been granted before the EIA legislation came into force. As Patricia Lorenz from Friends of the Earth Europe pointed out, the EIA undertaken at the Mochovce plant came about after pressure was exerted by NGOs and other interest groups.

“But the EIA which finally took place did not even consider alternative scenarios, but rather the best practice for the plant extension”, Harms uderscored.

The Belene 4 unit in Bulgara was also first proposed under the socialist regime but never reached construction. It is a highly controversial project as it would be located in a highly seismic region. The planned reactor has the same basic Russian design and has been found by experts to have insufficient resistance against external hazards. Partly as a result of that, the main prospective investor, German utility RWE, withdrew from the project in 2009.

The third case study, French nuclear equipment supplier AREVA´s EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) project in Olkiluoto, Finland, has been advertised as the “flagship of nuclear renaissance” in Europe. It has notoriously struggled with delays and huge cost overruns. It has been criticized by the national nuclear watchdog who has consistently found quality violations during auditing.

The failure of Olkiluoto begs the question of whether there is any place for a nuclear renaissance in Europe. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly apparent that other sources of low- or zero-carbon energy can fully supply Europe by the middle of this century at a competitive price. Given the lifetimes of nuclear plants, there appears to be no justification for trying to revive a nuclear energy industry destined for retirement.