You are here

No-nuke EU member state coalition in the making

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#728
6141
17/06/2011
Niels Henrik Hooge
Article

For more than a decade, the idea that EU non-nuclear member states should cooperate to try to phase out nuclear power in Europe has haunted anti-nuclear activists, green politicians and lobbyists from the clean energy sector. In spite of the obvious benefits such cooperation might bring, nothing ever happened. However, the catastrophic events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant might have changed that: At a meeting in Vienna late May, representatives of eight European non-nuclear countries decided to form a coalition to combat climate change and develop sustainable energy sources without relying on nuclear power.

On May 25, ministers and heads of delegations of Austria, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal signed a common declaration [1] to be presented at the next meeting of the EU Environment Council on 21 June in Luxembourg. Among the principal issues under discussion were the environmental aspects of nuclear power and the potential for phasing it out in Europe. The eight countries emphasised their view that nuclear power is not compatible with sustainable development and that it is not a means to combat climate change. They also stressed the need to draw the lessons from the events in Japan in European energy policy. Among others, this means implementation of the highest possible standards for nuclear safety - including closure of nuclear reactors that cannot be upgraded within a reasonable time frame; but also that renewable energy and energy conservation must play a major role in the future.

Probably the real thing
Considering that it is not the first attempt to form an alliance against nuclear power, it seems appropriate to take critical look at its viability. Back in 2007, environment ministers from eight European countries launched a similar initiative to reduce the role of nuclear power in European climate policy and published a declaration much like the one from Vienna [2]. However, even though the initiative included large countries such as Germany and Italy and even non-EU member states such as Norway and Iceland, it quickly petered out. So what are the prospects of success this time around and what could be the role of the coalition?

At least three things are different - two of them beneficial for a no-nuke coalition and the third more complex: The first is of course the Fukushima disaster, which will not disappear any time soon and continues to undermine the so-called nuclear renaissance. The second is that Germany – the biggest economy in Europe – recently re-decided on a relatively quick nuclear phase-out, substituting nuclear with renewable energies. It is reasonable to assume that Germany, not to be put in a position of disadvantage, will be forced to strike a blow for renewables at the European level at the expense of nuclear power. Germany’s main priority will probably not be improvement of nuclear security or safety or environmental issues, but the need for a level playing field for renewable energy sources in the European energy markets. This could increase the pressure to reform or abolish the Euratom Treaty, which is considered the backbone of the European nuclear support infrastructure. In all circumstances, the probability of the no-nuke coalition having an impact will increase because of this development.

The coalition must walk on two legs
The third factor is that the coalition is not only a no-nuke, but also a non-nuclear coalition. None of the member states involved in the initiative have nuclear programs. This might warrant a common outlook, but at the same time constitutes an obvious weakness: The political capital needed to develop and push for a coherent policy on nuclear issues outside of the countries’ own borders is very small, considering that there is very little domestic interest in this subject. Furthermore, virtually no green NGOs in these countries have nuclear power on their agenda, so both the general level of motivation and knowledge is low. The only exception is Austria, whose NGOs and shifting governments have over the years taken a keen interest in the nuclear policies of its neighbouring countries and in Europe. It is not coincidental that the concept of a coalition of no-nuke EU member states was developed in Austria in the nineties [3].

On the plus-side, it must be recognised that the coalition constitutes an immense leap forward. Counting in the three countries that participated in the Vienna meeting as observers, but did not sign the declaration - Cyprus, Estonia and Denmark – the coalition covers 40 per cent of all EU member states. Its greatest asset could be its capability to transform into a coalition that is able ‘to walk on two legs’. This would imply putting together a political package combining nuclear issues of moderate political appeal – at least in non-nuclear countries - with issues pertaining to renewables that potentially could attract a lot of attention. Reforming or abolishing nuclear support infrastructures is not possible without at the same time developing an institutional framework furthering renewable energy sources. This might open the door for the newly developed concept of a European Community for Renewable Energy (ERENE) [4]. Such a community could be established on the basis of existing EU treaties as a co-operation between at least nine member states or on a new, separate treaty alongside EU and Euratom.

In all circumstances, we will know more when the coalition has its next meeting in Athens in the fall.

Sources:
[1] Declaration, 25 May 2011, Vienna, http://www.nonuclear.se/en/vienna_declaration20110525
[2] Joint Ministerial Statement on Nuclear Power and Climate Change, October 2007: http://www.bmu.de/english/international_environmental_policy/doc/40060.php
[3] Workshop, Coalition of Non-Nuclear Countries (NoNuC), Paper prepared by Anti Atom International (AAI), Vienna, February 1998, Sponsored by the Austrian Ministry of Environment, Youth and Family and the Austrian Chancellery, http://www.unet.univie.ac.at/~a9406114/aai/studien/studien.html#fuenf 
[4] ERENE, European Community for Renewable Energy, A feasibility study by Michaele Schreyer and Lutz Mez in collaboration with David Jacobs, Commissioned and published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, June 2008, http://www.boell.de/downloads/ecology/ERENE-engl-i.pdf

Contact: Niels Henrik Hooge, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel: +45 21 83 79 94
E-mail: [email protected]