What does the future hold for nuclear energy?

On September 12th, our Forum organised a lunchtime discussion at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, at the invitation of its associate member Westinghouse.

 The topic of the discussion was “Key factors in the development of nuclear power in the EU”. The speaker, Yves Brachet, is president of Westinghouse Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The main point of his presentation was that:

“More than 60 reactors are in construction around the world, including four in the US and four in the EU, with many more in the pipeline. Fourteen EU countries are operating nuclear plants and a few more are expressing their interest in joining the nuclear community.

Security of supply, climate change and competitiveness stay as strong drivers, but there are also impediments: financing of large capital projects, incoherent and conflicting EU energy and environmental policies…”

Westinghouse took position with respect to energy policy – at the intersection of geopolitics, the environment, technology and many other fields – leaving aside commercial and promotional aspects.

On that day, the European Union was still impacted by Germany’s recent decision to “get out of nuclear” and by the rather worrisome “Belgian nuclear” situation.

The discussion on September 12th was open, animated and certainly fruitful. The parliamentarians in attendance each took away something, based on their personal positions, as is always the case with our events.

Over the days that followed our discussion, we learned of Japan’s decision with respect to the closure of its nuclear power infrastructure by 2040 and of the decision by the President of the French Republic to shut down the nuclear plant at Fessenheim. As is common knowledge, a significant amount of this plant’s electricity production goes to Germany and Switzerland, both of which have decided to give up nuclear power.

Returning to the topic of our discussion of September 12th, we should first note that several Member States are determined to continue their involvement with nuclear energy. At this time, 10 of them are building, have approved construction, or have planned reactors, for a total of 16 units. These countries are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

What is more, in the rest of the world, outside of Japan where a nuclear future is still uncertain, several countries want to pursue installation, including China, India, and the United States.

It’s also interesting to note that others are committing, including Abu Dhabi which, with the Korean builder Kepco, has decided to build two of four planned reactors, each with a capacity of 1400 MW. Even Thailand is preparing to build, as is Saudi Arabia, which is planning a first nuclear network with 16 reactors.

I would like to end with Belarus which has just signed a contract with Russia for the construction of a nuclear plant consisting of two reactors of 2400 MW in total.

Inese Vaidere, the parliamentarian from Latvia who chaired the discussion in Strasbourg on September 12th, referred to the Belorussian initiative when closing the meeting.

Latvia shares a border with Belarus which will be building its nuclear plant in Grodno, basically sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. The latter is also planning to build and operate a nuclear plant in Visaginas following the shutdown of the Ignalina nuclear plant, which is equipped with RBMK-type reactors (Chernobyl).

A referendum will be held on October 14th to decide the subject.

Lastly, we also note that the Grodno site in Belarus is the closest location to the Russian province of Kaliningrad where a nuclear plant is currently under construction.

A little later, we learned that Japanese ministers had denied the announcement made by the “National Policy Unit” regarding the closure of the nuclear plants and that, in addition, the French had pointed out that Fessenheim would be shut down in 2016, that is, at the beginning of the next presidential campaign.

Jean-Claude Charrault

Director General