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The European Union and Nuclear Energy


Makayla Bangoura 


Introduction 

Nuclear power has been utilized as an alternative to fossil fuels, due to nuclear energy being a zero-emission fuel source. The European Union (EU) has turned to using nuclear energy as a potential method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. However, the possible use of nuclear energy has sparked internal debates within the EU, as some states want to invest in renewable energy sources. Since the Energy Crisis of 2021 and 2022 and the imposition of sanctions on Russian energy, nuclear power has become an attractive choice for the European Union. 


Reasons for Going Nuclear 

In 2020 the European Union passed the European Green Deal which was an initiative to tackle the problem of climate change. The initiative hopes to ensure that Europe will be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, have 55% less greenhouse gas emission than the levels in the 1990s, and plant 3 billion trees in the EU by 2030. In 2015, the EU became a party to the international climate agreement, known as the Paris Climate Agreement. The EU and other signatory countries agreed to keep the increase in global temperatures below ow 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The European Commission has stated its desire to phase out the burning of coal as a power source for electricity and invest in new sources of energy, primarily renewable forms of energy. As of right now, the European Union is far from generating all of its electricity with renewable energy sources and it will take many years to completely replace coal energy sources. Due to these circumstances surrounding the transition to renewable energy, consuming more nuclear energy can reduce carbon emissions while the EU continues to make its transitions to renewable energy. 


The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis also solidified the reasons for the European Union to embrace nuclear power as a source of energy. Sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion disrupted European energy markets, sparking an energy crisis. Up until the war, the European Union was highly dependent on Russian imports of oil and gas. For instance, in 2019 the EU imported 47 % of its coal, 41% of its natural gas, and 27% of its crude oil from Russia. In an attempt to break this dependence on Russian fuel, many state leaders in the EU and the International Energy Agency voiced their support for to use of nuclear energy as an alternative as it was the most practical and quick solution to end the energy crisis. At the time of the crisis, about half of the European Union was generating nuclear power with France having the highest number of operable reactors. 


Divide In The European Union 

Although nuclear energy is a practical alternative to fossil fuels, there is still a debate within the European Union over the dangers of nuclear energy, and whether the EU should turn to renewable forms of energy displayed their support for expanding nuclear technology, while states like Germany and Austria support investing in the technology for renewable energy. A group of 13 states signed a statement that emphasized the importance of nuclear energy and urged for stronger nuclear power policies. This group was led by France, and Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Italy, The Netherlands, and The Czech Republic followed suit. Simultaneously, Austria and Germany led a secondary group of 13 states calling for more promotion of renewable energy and power grid investment instead of focusing on atomic energy. Their concerns over the use of nuclear energy center around the dangers of nuclear waste and its effects on the environment. The continent’s history with nuclear energy, and catastrophic events like Chernobyl, were also a cause for concern for these 13 anti-nuclear states. 


Current Status of Nuclear Energy in the European Union 

Nuclear energy is currently used for one-quarter of electricity in the European Union. In March of 2023, the EU’s European Commission drafted market electricity reforms that would increase the manufacturing of clean energy technology. This plan included small modular reactors (SMRs) and later included existing nuclear energy plants. The proposed plan was a part of the Net-Zero Industry Act, and the nuclear energy element was a component of the EU’s clean energy transition. The Net Industry Act was passed by the European Parliament in November of 2023. There are one hundred operating nuclear power reactors in 12 EU states and two more under construction in France and Slovakia. 


Conclusions 

The European Union's turning to nuclear power as a form of energy has brought positive outcomes. Embracing nuclear energy has ended the energy crisis and relieved. the EU’s dependence on Russian energy. Although nuclear power offers an easy mechanism to transition into meeting the EU’s net carbon goals, the European Union needs to prioritize investing in renewable energy. Nuclear waste can cause long-term detrimental effects to the environment, leaving renewable energy to be a cleaner and safer form of energy. 

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