Europe’s nuclear industry addresses an open letter to EU leaders

8 June 2020

In an open letter on 3 June addressed to “EU Decision-makers” and signed by 25 companies and 14 associations, including European nuclear trade body Foratom, Europe’s nuclear industry said it “is ready and able to play its part, supporting national and EU clean, green economic revival”.

The letter was addressed to European Commission (EC) president Gertrud von der Leyen, vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president Frans Timmermans, commissioner Kadri Simson, commissioner Thierry Breton; European Parliament president David Maria Sassoli; and European Council president Charles Michel.

It said responding to the COVID-19 pandemic “is rightly the immediate priority for everyone”. It noted: “The energy sector across the EU, with nuclear energy at its core, continues to play an important role in that effort – we are reliably maintaining essential power supplies, whilst ensuring the safety of our employees, customers, the public and the environment.”

It pointed out that 26% of the electricity produced in the EU comes from nuclear energy and it remains the largest source of low carbon electricity. However, 50% of the EU’s electricity mix is still based on historic CO2 emitting fossil fuel technologies “and these must be replaced by new low carbon sources as the EU transitions to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050”. At the same time, additional power capacity will be required to meet growing power demand.

“The investment challenge is huge and the European Commission’s strategic vision (“A Clean Planet for All”) explicitly recognizes that nuclear, together with renewables, will form the backbone of the EU’s carbon-free power sector in 2050,” it said. “Today’s deployed nuclear technology, coupled with further nuclear technology innovation, research and development (for example, in Advanced and Small Modular Reactors) is the perfect complement to renewables to deliver low carbon electricity – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Nuclear can also be a significant contributor to district heating and low-carbon hydrogen production. In addition, it plays an indispensable role in the medical sector – through diagnostic and therapeutic applications, to detecting and curing cancer, nuclear technology supports Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.”

The letter said European member states “have been clear that if they are to achieve their climate targets, a technology-neutral approach will be essential”. EU energy-intensive industries rely on stable, secure and affordable power supply to remain globally competitive “and nuclear power is a key enabler”.

The energy sector will have a crucial role in economic recovery, and the European nuclear industry can play its part  by continuing to provide:

  • growth, jobs (today the nuclear industry maintain 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs) and wealth creation at EU, national and regional level
  • research and innovation
  • export growth potential and
  • progress towards a net-zero economy, whilst maintaining full compliance with strict environmental regulations, including those related to nuclear waste.

“The nuclear sector is already an important industrial sector in the EU and is strong across the full nuclear life cycle. There is now a growing awareness across the EU of the importance of preserving and enhancing industrial value chains and reducing over-dependency on third countries. The nuclear sector must, therefore, be part of the new, coherent EU industrial strategy.”

For the nuclear sector to deliver its contribution, it asks for:

  • Consistency in policy development and implementation, providing clear signals that facilitate investment and enabling delivery of the required new, low-carbon nuclear power plants (large and small modular reactors), as well as maintaining the existing fleet, and enabling longer-term operation when appropriate.
  • A science-based environmental assessment that delivers a prompt resolution of the nuclear energy position within the EU Taxonomy. The Technical Expert Group (TEG) recommended further analysis was required by qualified experts with appropriate scientific and technical knowledge. This must take place in 2020 so that important investment is not delayed.

“To conclude, the energy sector, with nuclear at its heart, is continuing to play a critical role powering the EU, delivering an essential low carbon service to households and businesses in a safe, competitive and reliable way and keeping the economy moving. We are also ready to play a leading role in the economic recovery, helping to provide the cleaner and more resilient economy of the future that we all strive for.”

Earlier, Foratom had expressed regret that the EC had ignored the need for nuclear power as a clean, dispatchable and European source of energy in its green recovery plan. The EC's plan - Next Generation EU - aims to boost the EU budget with new financing raised on the financial markets for 2021-2024, and a reinforced long-term budget of the European Union for 2021-2027. In March TEG omitted nuclear energy from its recommendations on the EU taxonomy, saying it was unable to conclude that the industry’s value chain does not cause significant harm to other environmental objectives.

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