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EC position on nuclear energy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 13, 1997) On May, 15, the European Parliament stood firm in voting against the Commissions PINC-programme. In this programme the development of nuclear power is encouraged allthough paying attention to the tense feelings on this issue.

(474.4701) WISE Amsterdam -In September 1996 the European Commission hedged its long-awaited analytical report "Illustrative Nuclear Programme for the Community" (PINC), on the EU's nuclear industry with carefull statements about "preserving Europe's options" in the sector, all the while avoiding promotion of the fuel source as in the past PINC's.

Noting that it is "now again appropiate" (other PINC-reports where published in '66, '84 and updated in '90) to examine the challenges facing the nuclear industry, the Commission said the new PINC takes a more market-oriented approach to the industry than previous editions, while stressing the main concerns voiced by public opinion concerning safety issues.

In spite of widely varying national policies, the report insists that member states should pull together to alleviate energy supply constraints and that nuclear energy 'can be a way to contribute to that aim". It argues that use of nuclear energy avoid some 700 million tonnes of CO2emissions per year for the whole of Europe.

In terms of the sector's economic development, it says the approaching liberalisation of the Community's internal electricity market means that nuclear energy will have to compete "in the same framework and under the same conditions as all other energy sources".

The costs and pricing of nuclear-generated electricity "may be affected by moves towards privatisation".

Beyond the single market, the document urges Europe's nuclear industry to "grasp every opportunity" to operate in the countries of the Far East and North America by capitalising on Europe's long experience in nuclear energy.

Noting that EU companies are already involved in Asia fuel cycle activities, it urges them to exploit the "major opportunities in the huge waste management and decommissioning markets, especially in the USA".

As for the public's persistent worries about nuclear energy - not to mention official anti-nuclear policies in a majority of the 15 EU countries - the report declares that "absolute priority" must be given to the safety of nuclear power.

In its conclusion the Commission calls for the establisment of a set of uncontroversial common principles to provide a framework "for the continuing contribution" of nuclear energy to the EU's overall energy supply. These are:

  • the right to decide to develop nuclear energy belongs to each member state,
  • respect for each member state's choise,
  • the need for pro-nuclear energy EU countries to ensure a high levels of nuclear safety and respect for non-proliferation requirements,
  • collective responsibility of both individual member states authorities and national operators for ensuring nuclear safety towards all European citizens.

In sum, the PINC report argues that implementation by all member states of these principles "could offer the framework for the nuclear industry to continue playing an effective role and making a valid contribution to the Union's energy supply and its economic activity".

Lots of reactions where given to the publication. For instance, Foratom, a pan-European nuclear industry lobby group expressed satisfaction with PINC's tone and thrust. In an (unwillingly) funny remark they even add "nuclear electricity is the only major energy source wich takes fully responsibility for its waste".

On the other hand, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the PINC downplays the sector's looming problems. The trade union lobby blasts the Commission for accepting uncritically the nuclear industry's own estimate that 400,000 people are employed in Europe's nuclear sector.

"Given that, according to another Commission document, 768,000 people were employed in the entire electricity sector in 1994; we believe this figure - even taking account of indirect employment - is considerably exaggerated", says the ETUC-paper.

Main point in the comments of the Europeans Parliament's Committee on Energy, Research and Technology (CERT) is that the Commission not devotes more attention to the problem of ageing nuclear plants in various member states. It also slams the EU for using Euratom loans to support upgrades of nuclear stations in Central and Eastern Europe. This considerably reduces funds avaliable for the approximately 100 power stations in the EU that must be dismantled in the next 15 years, notes the author, the french conservative MEP Andre Soulier.

In voting against the PINC programme the parliament shows her will to criticize further developments and expansion of nuclear power. But, as the parliament has no formal influence (the commission does not have to follow the vote) it will have only very limited consequences.

Sources: Power in Europe, 4 October 1996, 28 February 1997, 25 April 1997
Contact: Grattan Healy, Green Group European Parliament, MON 0.14, rue Belliard 97-113, B-1047 Bruxelles, Belgium.
Tel: +32-2 28- 42191; Fax: +32-2 28-44714.