Despite the bad rep that nuclear power tends to get in the popular imagination and in Hollywood movies …
Despite the bad rep that nuclear power tends to get in the popular imagination and in Hollywood movies, it still is one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy (if it’s done right).
As the European Union is seeking to wean itself off fossil fuels in favor of cleaner and greener energy sources, nuclear energy may well be a viable option. Currently a quarter of the economic grouping’s energy needs are met by nuclear power. Globally, some 400 nuclear power plants are in operation, albeit three-quarters of them have ageing reactors that will need to be shut down sooner or later.
In other words, the time is now, or pretty soon, to decide whether Europe will continue to rely heavily on nuclear energy in its bid to reduce its carbon emissions while simultaneously generating enough electricity. Yet concerns over the safety of nuclear power plants are causing more and more governments to seek alternatives in wind power, solar power and hydropower.
Belgium, for instance, has just announced that it will invest heavily in renewables like wind power in coming years and will scale down the use of its two nuclear power plants. France, Sweden and Switzerland are planning to follow suit in phasing out nuclear energy for domestic consumption. The French government has decided to close down the Fessenheim nuclear power plant in large part as a result of pressure from anti-nuclear advocacy groups.
The question, however, is whether renewable forms of energy will be able to meet the continent’s energy needs without nuclear power. That seems highly unlikely at the very least, according to several experts. Simply put, wind, solar and hydro power cannot in themselves generate enough electricity to meet the EU’s massive energy needs.
Nor will the transitioning to renewables be fast enough to shut down all nuclear power plants on the continent in the foreseeable future. That’s especially the case as some EU member states like Hungary are planning to rely on nuclear power. In fact, Hungary’s government has recently approved a plan to build a second reactor in the Central European country.
That’s not to say, though, that all is well with nuclear energy. “Nuclear is at best one choice among many and is hampered by repeated failures in the design and construction of the new European Pressurised Reactor and by escalating capital costs,” the Financial Times has noted. “The latest delay in the construction of the first EPR, at Flamanville in northern France, further dents the idea that new nuclear can seriously compete in a highly competitive market.”
Yet all in all, there is a future for nuclear energy in Europe.