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Brussels, 10 January 2007

A European approach to nuclear power, safety and security

It is for each member state to decide whether to use nuclear power. Nuclear power can have an important role to play in the European Union's energy mix: but it is important to continue to address issues surrounding safety and security. In recognition of this, the European Commission has proposed the establishment of an EU High Level Group of national nuclear regulators in order to further develop a common understanding and European rules in the field of nuclear safety and security.

According to Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty, the European Commission must publish an illustrative nuclear programme on a regular basis. To that effect the Commission presented a Communication reviewing the investments in nuclear energy for the past ten years, describing the economics of nuclear power generation, its impacts on the energy mix as well as its conditions for social acceptance.

It is for each Member State to decide whether or not to rely on nuclear power for the generation of electricity. Decisions to expand nuclear energy were recently taken in Finland and in France. Other EU countries, including the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Romania have re-launched a debate on their nuclear energy policy. With 152 reactors spread over the EU 27, nuclear power contributes 30% of Europe’s electricity today - however, if the planned phase-out policy within some EU Member States continues, this share will be significantly reduced. To meet the expected energy demand and to reduce European dependency on imports, decisions could be made on new investments or on the life extension of some plants.

Reinforcing nuclear power generation could also represent one option for reducing CO2 emissions and play a major role in addressing global climate change. Nuclear power is essentially carbon emissions-free and forms part of the Commission's carbon reduction scenario including the objective of reducing CO2 emissions. This could also feature as an important consideration when discussing future emissions trading schemes.

The most crucial factor affecting the prospect of growth of nuclear power is its underlying economics as a nuclear plant involves an up front investment ranging from €2 to €3 billion. Nuclear energy generation incurs higher construction costs in comparison to fossil fuels, yet operating costs are significantly lower following the initial investments. Furthermore, nuclear power generation is largely immune to changes in the cost of raw material supplies, as a modest amount of uranium, which comes largely from stable regions of the world, can keep a reactor running for decades. Therefore, in most industrialised countries new nuclear power plants offer an economic way to generate base-load electricity.

The nuclear industry has made considerable investments since 1997. The EU recognises the importance of maintaining a technological lead in the field of nuclear power and supports the further development of the most advanced framework for nuclear energy, including non-proliferation, waste management and decommissioning. Since the establishment of the Euratom Treaty, nuclear safety and the radiological protection of the public have been one of the main concerns of the European Community and are issues that have gained further importance in view of the past and the present enlargement.

At EU level, the role should be to develop further the most advanced framework for nuclear energy in those Member States that choose nuclear power, in conformity with the highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation as required by the Euratom Treaty. This should include nuclear waste management and decommissioning.

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