Rhein on Energy and Climate

Nuclear Energy in the EU

The EU makes National Opt-Out of Nuclear Power ineffective
EU member states are split on whether to authorise nuclear reactors on their territory. In recent years, Finland and Italy have decided to go nuclear in view of implementing their climate targets. Germany remains committed to phasing out nuclear power before 20205, believing that it can reconcile ambitious climate objectives and opting out of nuclear electricity.

The nuclear debate has always been tinged with a lot of ideology, with the Greens being the most radically opposed. Whatever the ideological or safety objections to nuclear power, they tend to ignore the fact that all European citizens are sitting in the same boat, when it comes to a nuclear accident of the calibre of Chernobyl: radioactive clouds ignore national borders, as we recall from the Chernobyl accident that hurt Belarus citizens more than Ukrainians.

The objections also ignore the fact that German citizens will continue using French or British nuclear-generated electricity, even when the country will have formally banned nuclear reactors on its territory. The EU Treaty forbids any restrictions on the import of goods and services from other member states. It is therefore perfectly legal for a German utility to build nuclear power plants in an EU neighbour country and import nuclear electricity via the intra-European grid.

This is exactly what the second biggest European utility company, EON, has decided to do. It has just announced its intention to build two 1600 MW nuclear power plants, for the modest sum of € 6 billion, in the UK to be completed by 2020, just in time for the closure of its German nuclear plants. No German government will want to stop EON from importing all or part of that “nuclear electricity” into the German grid; and if it wanted, the ECJ would stop it from going ahead.

It is time for the German government to wake up to the realities of a single European market for electricity and stop fooling its citizens with the illusion of living in a nuclear-free paradise. It will be interesting to see how the issue of nuclear power and climate change will dominate the German elections in September 2009.

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  1. It remains to be seen if these plants are going to be build in time and at the amount announced. In Finland, the cost of one single reactor of 1600 MW has just risen to 4.5 billon and this might not yet be the end. See the Reuters news here http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssIndustryMaterialsUtilitiesNews/idUSLS56745220080828
    And Moody’s has just calculated the cost of nuclear in the US at 5000-6000 $/kW which would result in a price tag of around 6 billion for one plant of 1600 MW.
    More on http://climateprogress.org/2008/06/13/nuclear-power-part-2-the-price-is-not-right/

    The history of nuclear power is a history of massive delays and cost overruns.

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