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Andris Piebalgs

Energy Commissioner

Nuclear Energy within the climate change and energy security debate

Speech at the First European Nuclear Energy Forum
Bratislava, 26 November 2007

Prime Ministers of the Republic of Slovakia and of the Czech Republic,

Members of the European Parliament and of the European Economical and Social Committee,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First and foremost, I would like to thank you, Prime Minister Fico, for your warm welcome and for being the host, shared with Prime Minister Topolanek, of this inaugural session of the European Nuclear Energy Forum.

This first meeting takes place in a particular context for the nuclear sector. It is now the 3rd important event in only 3 months where nuclear energy is in the focus:

- on 21 September, the Commission has launched the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNE-TP) to overcome fragmentation and to better coordinate research,

- on 12 October I opened the first meeting of the High Level Group (HLG) mandated to seek consensus on further improving nuclear safety and safe waste management at European level,

- and today I am pleased to participate in the inauguration of the European nuclear energy Forum, which aims for the first time at an inclusive and wide-ranging stakeholder discussion on the opportunities and risks of using nuclear energy in a low carbon energy mix.

The importance which the Commission pays to this new dialogue is stressed by the express wish of the President of the European Commission, José-Manuel Barroso, to transmit his personal welcome address.

I will therefore start by making the following statement on his behalf:

«Prime Ministers, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am sorry I cannot be with you on this occasion - I am currently in China for the EU-China summit, but I am grateful for the opportunity to pass a message to this first meeting of the European Nuclear Energy Forum.

Let me first briefly set out the European policy context and then give you my views on the role of nuclear within this new context and on the Forum's mandate.

This Forum is being set up at a crucial stage, where the interlinked challenges of energy and climate change are at the very top of the European Union's agenda.

The massive increase in carbon emissions is going to have great repercussions for our climate, and for our lives. And of course, climate policy is closely linked to energy policy, as production and use of energy represent 80% of all green house gas emissions.

In addition, with the rise of new economic giants like China and India, Europe is being exposed to an ever more intense competition for global energy resources, and is becoming ever more dependent on oil and gas imports from geopolitically uncertain regions. This, I fear, is going to be increasingly unsustainable.

But with both political will and technological developments, there is hope on the horizon. I believe we are now standing on the brink of a "Third Industrial Revolution called the Low Carbon Age" based on a sustainable and low carbon economy.

To achieve this, we will have to accelerate the shift to a low carbon energy system in line with the orientations given to us by European leaders at the Spring European Council last March.

At the same time, it will improve Europe's energy security, and decrease geopolitical tensions.

In this context I really believe that there is a need for a full and frank debate about nuclear energy. It is not the European Union's role, or indeed the role of the Commission, to decide for Member States whether they use nuclear energy or not.

But it is - in my view - not surprising that we are witnessing a renewed interest for nuclear energy at global level. Nuclear energy can have a role to play in meeting our growing concerns about security of supply and CO2 emission reductions. In the EU, around one third of the electricity currently comes from nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy also protects our economy against price volatility of energy prices, as nuclear power is less vulnerable to fuel price changes than some other energy sources. With the current record oil prices, this element is becoming increasingly important.

At the same time, I believe that in the context of a revival of nuclear energy, we need to develop further in Europe the most advanced framework for nuclear energy, meeting the highest standards of safety, security and non proliferation.

The EU should also continue its efforts to ensure that such high standards are observed internationally, in the context of an increased cooperation with the IAEA.

Therefore, to stress it once more, while the EU as such only has a limited role to play, we can make a significant contribution to the debate in related areas, for example on research and on safety, and offer a platform for an open dialogue.

I therefore strongly welcome this Forum.

Indeed, there are a number of other efforts in train to improve the nuclear sector as a whole, like the new "High Level Group on Safety and Wastes" and the recently launched "Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform".

As you can see, the Commission is ready and willing to help launching a transparent debate on nuclear energy and ensuring that the public receives relevant and reliable information on the different policy options available.

Therefore I particularly welcome the creation of the European Nuclear Energy Forum and I warmly thank the Slovak and the Czech Prime Ministers for having agreed to co-host the Forum alternatively in Bratislava and Prague.

In line with the mandate given by the Heads of State and Government in March, I trust this Forum will allow for an open and structured discussion among all key actors on the opportunities and risks of nuclear energy.

Once again, sorry I cannot be with you, but I wish every success to the new European Nuclear Energy Forum.

Thank you. »

Let me now add a few personal reflections to the thoughts of President Barroso:

I am concerned about the current escalation of the oil prices and its consequences for our economies. The energy package adopted by Heads of State and Government in March this year already highlighted the multi-dimensional challenges we are facing. But the exponential price increase of crude oil has even accelerated the need for swift and structural action. Therefore we increasingly need a totally open debate on all potential sources of energy, including nuclear energy, to reflect on our energy mix.

I am pleased to see that consensus is building on the criteria for the use of nuclear energy in various Community institutions, which recently materialised in favourable opinions:

1) from the Economic and Social Committee on the Commission's recent Communication of an Illustrative Nuclear Program (PINC), and

2) from the European Parliament, in the recently adopted REUL report.

However, our generation has not only experienced the benefits of nuclear energy but it has unfortunately also witnessed the consequences thereof when safety rules and culture were compromised. The highest attention should thus be given to the challenges and potential risks of nuclear energy. As I constantly underline it, again recently when opening the first meeting of the High Level Group and when speaking at the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform launch conference: safety cannot be compromised on.

Together with and in complementarily to the work of the High Level Group, improving nuclear safety must be an overwhelming principle of your dialogue here as well. The highest level of safety, but also of security and non-proliferation, is the absolute condition for the use and development of nuclear energy.

This implies not only the safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants and of fuel cycle, but also the safe management of the resulting wastes, with the ultimate goal to concretely translate the current efforts into functional and swiftly operational deep geological repositories. Good progress has already been made in some EU Member States, even if they still need to be materialised. I wish that these good examples encourage the other nuclear energy producing countries to follow this path.

However I would like to stress that the highest possible level of safety is only a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient. Public acceptance is the second important pillar.

Building trust and increasing confidence in the use of nuclear energy are vital elements for public acceptance in democratic societies. Increased transparency and participation is in the interest of all, whatever their position on nuclear. This is at the core of the debates to which you will participate. Gaining trust and confidence, involving the citizens in the decision-making process, tackling all issues in a transparent way are not easy tasks. But they are issues on which you as decision makers or as influential observers have to focus your efforts on. It means demonstrating to people that the risks of nuclear energy are dealt with in a satisfactory manner, that the concerns of the population are taken seriously, and that you are all willing to help those who are not confident yet to get the necessary and balanced information which may gradually reassure them.

I am confident that you are committed to this task, which is confirmed by your presence here today.

After having seen the list of speakers and participants, I am impressed by the outstanding nature of the audience, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The invitation to contribute to this Forum obviously has had a big resonance ranging from a high representation of the political level, to key actors from industry and the civil society. And I would also like to welcome the non-EU partners who are here today.

This gives me confidence that a constructive spirit and high dedication will be the drivers of your discussions today, and in the next meetings of the Nuclear Forum.

I thus wish you constructive and pro-active discussions in a spirit of mutual respect and, once again, I would like to thank in particular the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovakia and the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic to jointly host, on an alternate basis, the meetings of the European Nuclear Energy Forum.

This is a strong and highly symbolic signal, as it is the first time an energy forum will be co-hosted by 2 Member States.

I thank you for your attention.

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