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Column: Should Europe risk social consequences and lean towards more nuclear power?

Steam rises from the cooling towers of the Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power plant in Belleville-sur-Loire, France on October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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LITTLETON, Colorado, Sept 21 (Reuters) – After more than a decade of shunning nuclear power as a source of responsibility for the environment and human safety, there is a modest recovery in its acceptance in key European electricity markets that have been upended by the aftermath of the Russian crisis. -Ukrainian crisis.

And the appeal of nuclear power goes beyond being the lesser evil of dirtier coal and more expensive gas, especially among policy makers who need to drastically cut carbon emissions in a fast and affordable way.

Electricity markets in Europe have been distorted more than in other regions by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has caused coal and natural gas prices to soar and pushed electricity prices several times their long-term averages. read more

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This has forced European policymakers to reconsider all their power generation options as they try to prevent blackouts and limit further increases in electricity prices for the region’s households and industry.

Back to the drawing board for even more nuclear power, which continues to struggle with the proliferation of waste and weapons-grade fuel, but also has a history of providing the holy grail for electricity providers: stable, low-cost, and emission-free base power.

NUCLEAR LEGACY

Germany, Belgium and France are seeking to extend the lives of a few creaky nuclear reactors in response to the turmoil in the electricity market this year and a bleak outlook for 2023 if gas prices remain at current levels. read more

In addition, France plans to build at least six new reactors in the coming decades. read more

Nuclear use for electricity map

Europe already generated 21.9% of its electricity from nuclear power in 2021, according to BP’s latest Statistical Review of World Energy, and this combination of new and durable plants looks set to solidify Europe’s status as the world’s most nuclear nation. – dependent region for electricity.

Moreover, this heavy reliance on nuclear power could be an example of how Western European economies are cutting back on coal and gas purchases from Russia while cutting emissions from the energy sector.

Nuclear energy ratings

Combined with the rapidly growing amount of renewable energy supplied across Europe, which generated 23.5% of Europe’s electricity in 2021, more than any region, the increase in nuclear power could potentially lead Europe to have 50% of its electricity be supplied from non-radiative energy sources within the next decade.

NIMBISM AND OTHER OBSTACLES

Of course, sharp opposition to the construction of new nuclear power plants stands in the way of a sharp increase in the production of atomic energy in Europe.

And the accusations against nuclear power are not only related to the environment and safety: most nuclear projects, as a rule, exceed development timelines by several years, and construction budgets by billions of dollars.

As climate change is already causing more severe unrest on the planet in the form of historic droughts, floods and heatwaves, it is understandable that there is a widespread reticence in society to bet on such delay-prone and costly technology as a response to such an urgent call. .

Electricity source by type and region

But with 10 countries in Europe already getting 20% ​​or more of their electricity from nuclear power, power producers and politicians are also reluctant to create new sources of energy from scratch when it is possible to increase supply from existing nuclear power plants. plants faster and cheaper.

European politicians are clearly already effectively using the shock of the current energy crisis to rally support for greater use of nuclear power and life extension of power plants that many communities expected to shut down in the next few years.

The challenge for these authorities will now be to prove in the same time frame that nuclear power was the right way, otherwise they risk losing not only the support of their constituents, but also valuable time in the fight against climate change.

The views expressed here are those of the author, a Reuters columnist.

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Reporting by Gavin Maguire; Edited by Muralikumara Anantaraman

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, in accordance with the Principles of Trust, is committed to the principles of honesty, independence and freedom from bias.

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