Nuclear Illustrative Programme
This programme describes the status of the nuclear sector in the European Union (EU) in 2006 and the possible developments in this sector, taking into account economic and environmental issues.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 4 October 2007 entitled: 'Nuclear Illustrative Programme' [COM(2007) 565 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The nuclear illustrative programmes aim to provide information on nuclear energy in the European Union (EU), the objectives adopted by the Member States for nuclear power production and the investment required to achieve them.
Status of nuclear power in Europe and the world
The EU is the world’s largest producer of nuclear electricity (944.2 TWh(e) in 2005). Around a third of the electricity and 15 % of the energy consumed in the EU comes from nuclear power plants. There were 443 nuclear reactors for electricity production in the world in 2006, providing 15 % of the world’s electricity. At the end of 2006, the EU-27 had 152 reactors (146 from January 2007) in 15 Member States and the average age of these plants was around 25 years, with a lifespan of 40 years in general. Decisions relating to renewal of European nuclear capacity or the extension of the life of certain plants must therefore be made in the next few years, given the time required for construction of new reactors.
Several countries outside the EU have declared their intention to construct new nuclear power plants, in particular China, South Korea, the United States, India, Japan and Russia. Within the EU the situation is very diverse: Bulgaria, France, Slovakia and Finland have decided to build new nuclear reactors; several countries have reopened the debate on the possibility of extending operation of existing plants or replacing them (the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania (‘Baltic States’ project) and the United Kingdom amongst others); finally, Belgium, Germany and Spain have gone down the route of gradually abandoning or limiting nuclear power. Since 1997, the Commission has been notified of 19 investment projects.
Advantages of the use of nuclear power
The Commission considers that nuclear power can contribute to the diversification and the security of the energy supply for a number of reasons, in particular the availability and distribution of nuclear fuel (natural uranium), the limited impact of price variations for this fuel on plant operating costs and the existence of market supervision for nuclear materials for peaceful use.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the nuclear electricity sector is competitive compared with electricity generation from fossil fuels. The competitiveness of this sector is also strengthened by the significant increase in the cost of other fuels. However, the liberalised electricity markets cannot guarantee price stability, which may lead public authorities to take steps to reduce the risk for investors. The nuclear power sector is marked by high construction costs, while the operating costs are lower than for other sources of electricity. In addition, other features of this sector have a bearing on costs and investment risk, such as plant size and building plants to a similar design.
The nuclear power industry gives off low CO2 emissions and is therefore an interesting option for the fight against climate change. At present, this sector is the largest source of low CO2 emission energy in Europe.
Management of the risks associated with nuclear power
The public’s perception of the nuclear sector is a vital factor in the acceptability and future of nuclear power production. This requires the public to have access to reliable information and to be involved in a transparent decision-making process. The EU is already committed to managing risk associated with nuclear power and it envisages strengthening its actions further.
The EU also acts to guarantee nuclear safety: it makes sure that international agreements on the subject are applied and makes a financial contribution to improving nuclear safety, both within its borders, in particular following the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, and in third countries.
On the subject of radioactive waste, the vast majority is low level short-lived waste, for which strategies are implemented on an industrial scale in almost all the States with nuclear power plants. The disposal of high level long-lived waste is notably influenced by social factors, in particular the choice of final disposal sites and public acceptance of this choice. Research also focuses on techniques for reducing the volume or life of radioactive waste or long-lived components.
Decommissioning of installations is a complex and costly operation that is likely to involve around a third of plants currently in operation by 2025. It is therefore necessary to have sufficient financial resources, potentially from separate funds. The Commission emphasises the fact that the actual cost for decommissioning must, in the end, be borne by the operators.
In relation to radiological protection, the Commission states that exposure of those working in the nuclear industry and radioactive waste from nuclear industries have decreased significantly, while exposure in the medical field or to natural sources of radiation could be reduced further. Major progress has also been made in terms of preparation for emergencies, exchange of information, food controls and preventing the loss or misappropriation of radioactive sources.
European action on the subject of nuclear energy
The Euratom Treaty is the legal basis for the regulatory framework laying down far reaching obligations and competences in the nuclear field, particularly on the subject of research as well as controls, security and nuclear safety.
The Commission has adopted several proposals on nuclear safety in order to harmonise the work of national authorities.
It has also launched a European programme for critical infrastructure protection.
European research plays a vital role in the nuclear field. It is currently carried out under the 7th Euratom framework programme, in particular through the creation of technological platforms and with a focus on nuclear fission and innovative technology.
For the future, the Commission suggests that discussions cover, amongst other things, the recognition of common reference levels, the formation of a high-level group for safety and management of radioactive waste, the introduction of national radioactive waste management plans, harmonisation of strategies on decommissioning funds, and the creation of a harmonised system of liability and financial mechanisms in the event of damage caused by a nuclear accident.
The obligation to draw up nuclear illustrative programmes is laid down in Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty.
This nuclear illustrative programme was first presented as part of the re-examination of European energy policy at the start of 2007 ('energy package'). The final version of the programme, adopted in October 2007, takes account of the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee, to which the preliminary version was presented, certain observations from the European Parliament, and additional information provided by the Member States (Annex 2).