Could Nuclear Energy Reduce Europe’s Reliance on Russian Energy?

In the midst of the Ukraine conflict, the EU is seeking to minimize its reliance on Russian energy. Some pundits have advocated for nuclear power development, but many experts believe the shift would take too long to make an influence in the coming years and would not definitely lessen dependency on Russia.

Many, but not all, EU countries rely on other countries for energy. In 2019, the EU imported more than 60 percent of its energy.
Russia supplied 47 percent of the EU’s imported coal and other solid fuels, 41 percent of its imported natural gas, and 27 percent of its imported crude oil.

Russia is also a provider of nuclear energy for the European Union. Nuclear power supplied 25% of the electricity to EU nations in 2020. France contributed more over half of it, with Russia, Switzerland, and Ukraine producing roughly a quarter.

Approximately half of the EU nations now generate nuclear electricity. The country with the most operational nuclear reactors is France, followed by Belgium and Spain. Because most reactors are not routinely operated at full capacity, these nations may increase electricity supply from existing reactors very fast. The International Energy Agency identified this as one of the alternatives to lessen Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.

A new nuclear power plant, on the other hand, takes at least a decade to develop. The European Commission recently produced a draft strategy for decreasing the EU’s reliance on Russia, but it makes no mention of nuclear energy. Instead, it suggests, among other things, collaborating with other nations to diversify its gas supply, speeding the development of renewables, which now provide more than a quarter of the EU’s power.

It would most likely be tough for EU countries to move to nuclear energy. Russia is a nuclear powerhouse: it supplies over 35% of the enriched uranium required for reactors globally, and it built many of the reactors that have come online in recent years.

The EU should diversify its energy supplies as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, but this has not yet resulted in a bloc-wide shift toward nuclear power. Instead, it appears that the conflict has hardened countries’ long-held stances in favor of and against growing nuclear power.

Countries that support nuclear power development, such as France, Finland, and Poland, have stated that it is vital for the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels. They also point to technology advances, such as compact modular reactors, which might be less expensive and easier to build than traditional nuclear power facilities. The European Commission is expected to decide later this year whether to categorize nuclear power as a clean energy source; if it does, analysts predict that investment in nuclear power would increase across the continent.

Countries opposed to nuclear power expansion, such as Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, and Portugal, have expressed worries about nuclear waste management and the possibilities of an accident. Their attitudes are also influenced by the high expenses of building and operating nuclear power facilities, as well as the rising affordability of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Following the Fukushima nuclear tragedy in Japan in 2011, Germany accelerated efforts to shut down its reactors. Its final three plants are set to close this year. As the conflict in Ukraine raged on, officials considered keeping them open, but ultimately decided against it. (The United Kingdom, which presently has eleven operational reactors, is considering extending the operation of one nuclear power facility for a period of twenty years.)

The battle has also heightened fears of a nuclear disaster. Russian soldiers damaged and later took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility in southern Ukraine in early March. “The war has woken everyone up to the fact that we didn’t construct these reactors to be war-proof,” says Allison Macfarlane, head of the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and former chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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