30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 110/77


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The issues involved in using nuclear power in electricity generation’

(2004/C 110/14)

On 23 January 2003, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an opinion on the issues involved in using nuclear power in electricity generation.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 8 January 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Cambus.

At its 406th plenary session (meeting of 25 February 2004), the Committee adopted the following opinion by 68 votes to 33 with 11 abstentions:

INTRODUCTION

This own-initiative opinion has been submitted to help clarify the debate on the use of nuclear power in electricity generation at a time when the Commission has re-introduced the issue in the Green Paper on the security of the EU's energy supplies and in the ‘nuclear package’ on general principles in the field of safety and the management of irradiated nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been in favour of each of these initiatives. In its opinion on the Green Paper (CES 705/2001 of 1.5.2001), it stated in particular that: ‘There are problems connected to nuclear power, but it also has clear benefits. Member States take the decisions on the use of nuclear power. However, it is difficult to see how the EU can in future meet the challenges of climate change and ensure energy supply at reasonable prices without nuclear power continuing to make at least its current contribution to electricity generation.’(point 5.7.8).

In the opinion on the ‘nuclear package’ (CES 411/2003 of 26.3.2003), the Committee generally approved the Commission's initiative, while making suggestions based on its expertise.

The present opinion looks at other nuclear-related issues – particularly the environmental, physiological and economic aspects – which the EESC feels are essential to acquiring a full understanding of the EU's energy problems, so that the debate may be as wide-ranging and well-informed as possible.

For reasons of consistency, the quantitative and qualitative data in this opinion concern the EU-15, since the outlook is based on an analysis of past trends. If the acceding countries and those applying for EU membership were taken into account, the figures would be changed to a certain extent, but the issues surrounding the use of nuclear power, both the positive and the negative aspects, would be unaffected.

It must be said that since 1992 the question of safety in nuclear power stations in the acceding countries and those applying for EU membership has been under review, and upgrading programmes have been in operation, involving decisions to shut down or re-organise plants and provide safety training where necessary. Constant surveillance of operators and safety authorities in the Member States concerned remains necessary in order to maintain, and indeed improve, safety levels.

Finally, the limits of this opinion are set by its title; it is but one element in a wider debate on energy policy which has already been the subject of several opinions and which must be continued in areas such as the development of renewable energies and control of demand.

1.   PART ONE: THE CURRENT ROLE OF NUCLEAR POWER IN ELECTRICITY GENERATION

1.1   Nuclear power in present-day electricity generation: the global picture

1.1.1

In 2002, 441 power reactors, representing a capacity of 359 GWe, were already in operation across the world, and a further 32 new reactors were under construction. The reactors already in service generated 2574 TWh, or around 17 % of the total world production of electricity. In the EU, 35 % of electricity was generated by nuclear power.

1.1.2

Of the total primary energy requirements for 2000, which stood at 9,963 Mtoe, nuclear energy accounted for 6.7 %, whilst renewable energy sources accounted for 13.8 % (biomass and urban waste 11 %, hydro-electric power 2.3 % and geothermic, solar and wind power 0.5 %) and fossil fuels for 79.5 % (oil 34.9 %, coal 23.5 % and gas 21.1 %).

1.1.3

Nuclear power is used to generate electricity in thirty-two countries. According to the figures for 2002, its share in overall electricity generation ranged from 80 % in Lithuania and 77 % in France to 1.4 % in China. The fact that 32 new power reactors are under construction demonstrates that nuclear energy is an expanding sector of industry world-wide and that the EU must not neglect it in its formulation of both energy and industry policy. Within the EU, in Finland the company TVO obtained a decision from its government in January 2002 agreeing to the ‘principle’ of constructing a fifth nuclear power station, and this decision was approved by parliament in May 2002.

1.1.4

In contrast, in a referendum in 1980 the people of Sweden voted in favour of phasing out the country's 12 nuclear reactors before 2010. However, in 1997 the Swedish parliament and government were forced to conclude that the objective of replacing these reactors with other sources of energy was not feasible. As of 2003, a single (600 MW) reactor, Barsebäck 1, had been taken out of service. The future of Barseback 2 is currently under discussion, since it will be impossible to close it in 2003. One option being considered is to follow Germany's example and negotiate a gradual phasing out of nuclear power with the companies that own the nuclear power stations. A recent opinion poll showed a shift in public opinion, which now seems in favour of the continued use of nuclear power.

1.1.5

In Belgium, the government decided in March 2002 to phase out nuclear power from 2015 and the act was approved by the parliament at the beginning of 2003. The law establishes a maximum lifespan of 40 years for nuclear power stations, meaning that they should all be closed between 2015 and 2025, and stipulates that no new nuclear power stations can be built and/or commissioned. However, the legislation does leave open the option to continue with the use of nuclear power in the event of a threat to the security of electricity supply.

1.1.6

In Germany, the coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens has decided on a policy of a gradual phasing-out of nuclear power and reached voluntary agreement on this with the nuclear power industry. After difficult negotiations, an agreement was concluded with the owners of Germany's 19 nuclear power stations, which limits the average lifespan of the stations to 32 years, calculated from the time they went on stream. The first nuclear power station has already been decommissioned. Most of the stations will be shut down between 2012 and 2022.

1.1.7

Beyond the borders of the EU, but still within Europe, in Switzerland, the public rejected two anti-nuclear initiatives – the ‘Moratorium Plus’ and the ‘Electricity without Nuclear Power’ – in May 2003. The first initiative involved extending the current ten-year moratorium on the construction of additional nuclear power stations by a further ten years; it was rejected by 58.4 % of those who voted. The second, which called for a phasing-out of nuclear energy – without replacing it with fossil fuels – and for an end to the reprocessing of spent fuel, was rejected by 66.3 % of those who voted.

1.1.8

The different types of technology in use:

The following table sets out the different types of technology (reactors) currently being used:

Type and common name

Energy level of the neutrons

Moderator

Fuel

Coolant

Total number of operational units /Number of countries

Pressurised (ordinary or ‘light’) water reactor (PWR)

Low

Ordinary water *

Enriched uranium with or without plutonium

Pressurised ordinary water *

258 / 25

Boiling (ordinary or ‘light’) water reactor (BWR)

-id-

Boiling ordinary water *

-id-

Boiling ordinary water *

91 / 10

Pressurised heavy water reactor (PHRW, or CANDU)

-id-

Heavy water

Natural uranium

Heavy water

41 / 6

Gas graphite reactor (UNGG, GCR, Magnox or AGR)

-id-

Graphite

Natural or slightly enriched uranium

CO2 or He

32 / 1

RBMK (ordinary water/graphite) reactor

-id-

-id-

Enriched uranium

Boiling ordinary water

13 / 3

Fast breeder reactor (FBR)

high

None

Uranium and plutonium

Melted sodium

4 / 4

1.1.9

The major producers of nuclear-generated electricity are: the USA, 780 TWh (20.3 % of its total electricity production); France, 416 TWh (78 %); Japan, 313 TWh (34.5 %); Germany, 162 TWh (30 %); Russia, 129 TWh (16 %); South Korea, 113 TWh (38.6 %); and the UK 81.1 TWh (22 %) (editor's note: figures for 2002).

1.1.10

Other countries which generate a significant proportion of their electricity using nuclear power are: Armenia, 40.5 %; Belgium, 57 %; Finland, 30 %; Hungary, 36 %; Lithuania, 80 %; Slovakia, 73 %; Sweden, 46 %; Switzerland, 40 %; and the Ukraine, 46 % (editor's note: figures for 2000).

1.1.11

According to the figures for 2002, the EU-15 generated 855.6 TWh or 35 % of its electricity using nuclear power. There will be no significant change in this ratio with EU enlargement and the accession of the 10 new Member States in 2004. Thus, nuclear power is the most important source of electricity production, and, with its share in primary energy consumed in the EU (15 %), it is an important factor as regards the security of the EU's energy supply.

1.2   Reduction of CO2 emissions in the EU using nuclear energy

1.2.1

In 1990, total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU-15 had reached the equivalent of 4,208 million tonnes (Mt or Tg) of CO2.

1.2.2

The European Environment Agency's 2002 report gives a total level of GHG emissions for the year 2000 of 4,059 Mt, an increase of 0.3 % compared to 1999, but a decrease of 3.5 % from the 1990 levels.

1.2.3

In relation to the objective of reducing total GHG emissions by 8 % by 2008-2012, the figure for 2000 (4,059 Mt) was above that year's target, resulting from a linear decrease in emissions between 1990 and 2010 (4,208 reduced by 4 %, or 4,039 Mt).

1.2.4

Energy uses (industrial, refineries, electricity production, heating of buildings and transport fuels) accounted for most of these emissions, with 3,210 Mt in 2000, including 1,098 Mt from energy production and only 836 Mt from electricity production for networks.

1.2.5

CO2 emissions alone, which represent 82 % of GHG, stood at 3,325 Mt in 2000, only 0.5 % lower than their 1990 level (3,342 Mt).

1.2.6

All these figures demonstrate that it will be difficult to comply with the Kyoto commitments. Furthermore, these figures cover a period of weak economic growth. The result would not have been so good if the EU had reached its planned economic growth target of 3 %.

1.2.7

These figures show that nuclear power has enabled Europe to avoid producing between 300 and 500 Mt (1) annually, depending on the references used, of carbon dioxide emissions. These figures compare with the total CO2 production of all passenger transport vehicles in the EU in 1995, i.e. 430 Mt (2).

1.2.8

A ‘bottom-up’ report (3) produced for the Commission in 2001 by a group of energy sector experts gave a figure of 1,327 Mt for the CO2 emissions produced by the energy sector (excluding transport) in 1990, together with a projected figure – using a frozen technology reference level – of 1,943 Mt in 2010. Taking this projected increase as a basis, the report concludes that four basic options for using new methods for producing steam and electricity could avoid CO2 emissions by:

500 Mt, if all new plants used the natural gas-fired combined cycle (NGCCs); it should be pointed out that using gas alone in the future to supplement renewable energy for electricity production will accelerate the exhaustion of gas reserves and does not constitute a ‘sustainable’ approach;

229 Mt through the use of renewables;

23 Mt through optimising production cycles in oil refineries;

50 Mt through CO2 removal, subject to further studies and a big rise in costs;

280 Mt according to another study (Shared Analysis Project) (4), if the current proportion of energy produced by nuclear power were maintained, which would mean installing an additional nuclear capacity of 100 GWe (around 70 reactors).

Use of these various options, coupled with a vigorous policy of demand-side management, will allow the 1.4 % annual increase in energy efficiency mentioned in point 2.4.2.2 of this opinion.

1.2.9

If all these potential gains were actually made, it appears that the Kyoto targets could be attained. However:

on the one hand, it is impossible to determine at the present time whether it would be feasible to introduce all the prerequisite policies or whether the costs of doing so would be acceptable;

on the other hand, the Kyoto targets are comprehensive and even an 8 % reduction in emissions from the energy sector will not be sufficient, if for example, no reductions are made in the transport sector.

Lastly, abandoning the use of nuclear power in electricity generation would lead to a ‘positive gap’ of 300 Mt annually in CO2 emissions in the energy sector.

1.3   Management of nuclear waste and spent fuel

1.3.1

Nuclear power stations are currently the largest producers of radioactive waste, followed by medical establishments, industrial establishments and research laboratories which use radioactive sources for examinations and measurements.

1.3.2

For the classification of waste, two parameters – the radioactivity and lifespan (period) of the waste products - are generally taken into account, with waste classed as ‘low’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘high-level’ and as ‘short-’ or ‘long-lived’ products. It should be noted that the products with the longest lifespan are not the most highly radioactive; on the contrary, a long lifespan correlates with low disintegration and relatively low radioactivity.

1.3.3

Technical solutions for managing this sort of waste are already known. For low-level, short-lived waste, an acceptable solution might be surface storage, and this course of action has already been officially decided on and implemented by some Member States. For high-level or long-lived waste, the standard technical solution that is recognised internationally by the experts is storage in deep geological strata, but surface storage is a temporary solution while the Member States concerned decide democratically which management option to adopt. It must be pointed out that for these products, surface packaging and storage comply with legitimate safety requirements and this provisional solution is managed pending the implementation of ultimate solutions. The nuclear package proposed by the Commission under the Euratom Treaty aims to speed up the decision-making process for geological storage.

1.3.4

Given that there is a direct correlation between the amount of spent fuel produced and the amount of electricity generated, the Member States most concerned are those which produce the greatest amount of nuclear energy. For high-level or long-lived waste the situation varies from one Member State to another:

Finland, which is the most advanced country, has opted for the solution of geological storage and has chosen a storage site;

Sweden has also opted for geological storage and is currently identifying a site;

France is exploring three possibilities: geological storage, lifetime reduction through separation-transmutation and long-term surface or underground storage;

the other countries have not yet started the process of choosing an ultimate solution for high-level or long-lived waste.

For other, low-level and short-lived waste, the surface storage technique applied in most Member States can be regarded as the acceptable solution.

1.3.5

Situation in the candidate countries (5):

‘In those candidate countries operating Russian-designed nuclear power plants and research reactors, spent fuel management has become a crucial issue in the last decade because shipments back to Russia for reprocessing or storage are no longer possible. As a matter of urgency, these countries had to construct temporary storage facilities for their spent fuel. Little, if any, progress has been made regarding implementation of programmes for longer-term management and ultimate disposal of this spent fuel.

Regarding the less hazardous operational waste from nuclear power plants, only the Czech Republic and Slovakia have operational disposal sites. Several countries have Russian-style repositories for institutional (i.e. non-fuel cycle) radioactive waste. However, these facilities often do not meet current safety standards. In some cases, waste may have to be retrieved and disposed of elsewhere.’

1.3.6

In the EU, 2 million m3 of low-level or short-lived radioactive waste have already been eliminated. These wastes, which account for significantly larger accumulations by volume than the more hazardous categories, present no major technical challenges regarding their disposal but nonetheless require close supervision while in temporary storage (COM(2003) 32 final).

2.   PART TWO: LONG-TERM ENERGY OUTLOOK (2030)

2.1

In view of the large number of uncertain variables involved, it is difficult to make a long-term prognosis for energy consumption patterns. We know that increasing energy consumption has been the cornerstone of recent progress across the board, whether in technology, living standards and levels of comfort, or hygiene, health, the economy and culture. On the other hand, we also know that the structural shift in the economy (tertiarisation) and advances in energy consumption processes are leading to a decrease in the energy intensity of our activities (i.e. the quantity of energy consumed per unit of production). The energy needs of the billions of people living in the developing world must not be underestimated. Lastly, the effects of energy consumption on the environment and the climate need to be taken into account.

2.2

In relation to the abovementioned factors, this opinion draws on two of the studies available which were conducted for the Commission: the ‘European Energy Outlook’ by P. Capros and L. Mantzos from the University of Athens (6) and ‘World Energy, Technology and Climate Policy Outlook’ (WETO), DG. Research (7). We have chosen them because both studies aim to elucidate the long-term energy outlook up to 2030, but one covers the European outlook and takes the abandonment of nuclear power for granted, while the other covers the outlook worldwide and assumes the continued use of currently available technologies.

2.3

Both reports use models which extrapolate from ongoing trends, including structural changes and technical progress. Although this means that they cannot incorporate new and radically different policies, the impossibility of making serious forecasts about changes to ongoing trends makes this a minor problem. This opinion therefore draws on these studies to elucidate the nature of the issues involved rather than to predict future patterns.

2.4

The key messages of these studies are set out below.

2.4.1   Capros-Mantzos Study

It is projected that in 2030, the EU's GDP will be more than double that of 1995, but as a result of the technological progress made both in the various branches of energy production and in the consumption process, together with structural change in the economy, energy consumption will have risen by 20 %, from 1,650 to 1,968 Mtoe (EU-25), meaning an average drop in energy intensity of 1.7 % per annum.

According to this scenario, oil would continue to provide the lion's share of energy, followed by gas and coal. Total CO2 emissions (4,208 Mt in 1990), which fell from an indicator of 100 in 1990 to 98.7 in 1995, would rise to 109.5 in 2020 and 117.2 in 2030. The Kyoto commitments could not be met within this basic scenario. Further, looking in more detail at the increase in CO2 emissions (assessed in the study at 568 Mt between 1995 and 2030), emissions from the industry, tertiary and domestic sectors and non-commercial uses would decrease, but emissions from the transport sector and energy production would increase by 163 Mt and 533 Mt respectively. The phasing-out of nuclear power would account for most of the increase in the latter figure.

2.4.2   WETO Study

2.4.2.1   Global outlook for 2030

The study projects that the world population will rise from 6.1 billion people in 2000 to 8.2 billion in 2030, and that global GDP will grow by an average of 3 % per year (as opposed to 3.3 % during the thirty years between 1970 and 2000).

World energy consumption is projected to increase by 70 % between 2000 and 2030 (from 9,963 Mtoe to around 17 Gtoe), representing an annual increase of only 1.8 %, for a 3 % growth in GNP.

In terms of demand for fossil fuels, oil would represent 5.9 Gtoe or 34 % of global consumption, natural gas 4.3 Gtoe or 25 % and coal, more competitive in terms of price, 4.8 Gtoe or 28 %.

Demand for nuclear power is projected to increase by 0.9 % per year over the reference period, but nuclear energy would account for only 5 % of global energy consumption in 2030, compared to 6.7 % in 2000.

The share of large-scale hydropower and geothermal energy would stabilise at 2 % of the total (2.3 % in 2000). Demand for solar power, small-scale hydropower and wind power would increase by 7 % per year between 2000 and 2010 and then by 5 %, but their share of consumption would still reach only 1 % of the total in 2030 (0.5 % in 2000).

The share of wood and waste consumption is projected to fall and would only represent 5 % in 2030 against 11 % today.

In total, renewable energies would represent 8 % of total world energy consumption in 2030.

According to this scenario, global energy consumption would rise by 1.8 % per year with a population increase of 1 % and an annual increase in per capita wealth of 2.1 % per year, implying an overall reduction in energy intensity of -1.2 % per year.

2.4.2.2   2030 Outlook for the EU

Within the EU, the population is projected to remain stable. Per capita wealth is expected to rise by 1.9 % and improvements in demand-side management (EDM) would permit a 1.4 % reduction in energy intensity, meaning that energy demand would increase by 0.4 % per year.

The overall demand for energy would rise from 1.5 Gtoe in 2000 to 1.7 Gtoe in 2030. This analysis takes account of the accession of the new Member States, where economic growth would be higher but where the gains in terms of energy intensity would also be more significant (8).

In terms of fuel shares, natural gas is projected to reach 27 % of total EU energy consumption, and would be behind oil (39 %) but ahead of coal and lignite (16 %).

2.4.2.3   Outlook for electricity production

Global electricity production is projected to increase by a steady 3 % per year. New technologies which emerged during the 1990s, including combined cycle gas turbines, advanced coal-burning technologies and renewables would account for over half of this production.

The share of gas in global electricity generation is expected to rise in the three main gas-producing regions.

The development of nuclear power would not be sufficient to maintain its share in global electricity production, which would fall to only 10 %.

Renewables would account for 4 % of energy needs, compared to 2 % in 2000, mainly due to increased electricity generation through wind power. For the EU-25, total electricity production would rise from 2,900 TWh in 2000 to 4,500 TWh in 2030, with the share of renewables rising from 14.6 % to 17.7 %, that of combined heat and power from 12.5 % to 16.1 %, while that of nuclear power would fall from 31.8 % to 17.1 %.

2.4.2.4   CO2 emissions

Under the basic reference scenario, global annual CO2 emissions would more than double between 1990 and 2030, rising from 21 Gt to 45 Gt.

For instance, in 2003, China would become the largest economy (with a 10-fold increase in GNP since 1990) and would become the biggest source of CO2 emissions, which would increase by 290 % in relation to 1990.

In the EU, the shares of coal and oil would decrease respectively by 7 % and 4 % and the share of natural gas would increase by 10 %, leading to a modest drop in the carbon intensity of energy consumption. However, due to the overall increase in energy consumption, total CO2 emissions would increase by 18 % between 1990 and 2030.

2.4.2.5   Variations in the basic reference scenario

The data set out above is drawn from the WETO study's basic reference scenario. The study also includes a further four variations on this scenario:

The ‘gas’ case assumes increased availability of natural gas and the introduction of major improvements for gas turbine combined cycles and fuel cells. It would result in a 21.6 % increase in gas consumption compared to the basic scenario, and a 1.6 % drop in CO2 emissions.

The ‘coal’ case assumes major improvements in advanced super coal power plant technology, integrated coal gasification combined power plants and direct coal-fired combined cycle plants. It would result in a 15 % increase in coal consumption compared to the basic scenario and would produce no increase in CO2 emissions.

The ‘nuclear’ case assumes a major breakthrough in nuclear technology in terms of cost and safety, both for standard light water reactors and particularly in the design of new reactors. It would result in an additional 77.5 % of nuclear generated electricity and a 2.8 % drop in CO2 emissions.

The ‘renewables’ case assumes major improvements, particularly in wind power, solar thermal power plants and small-scale hydro-electric installations and photovoltaic cells. It would lead to a 132 % increase in the contribution of these energies and a 3 % drop in CO2 emissions.

2.5

The outcome of this research is that, with no additional changes to the technologies and legislation in place in 2000 (when both studies were published) it will be extremely difficult to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions, either at global level, or within the enlarged EU.

These two studies demonstrate that, looking at all the technologies currently available, the contribution of nuclear energy would be just as important to climate control as that of renewables.

3.   PART THREE: PROSPECTS FOR RESEARCH

3.1   The achievements of nuclear R&D

3.1.1

Of all the various sources of energy, nuclear energy indubitably makes the most intense demands on R&D. The adoption of the Euratom Treaty in 1957 encouraged research and the dissemination of knowledge in the nuclear sector well before the inclusion of general research policy in the EC Treaty. Research has also focused on technological procedures and on safety issues and the protection of workers, the general public and the environment.

3.1.2

The knock-on benefits of non-military nuclear research for countries generating part of their electricity using nuclear energy are reduced energy bills for the general public and businesses, a more secure energy supply and a proven contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

3.2   Key research issues in the nuclear sector

3.2.1

The European Commission's Green Paper ‘Towards a European Strategy for Energy Supply’ (2001) addresses the key challenge for the European Union: How can the EU, which has insufficient energy resources and relies on foreign imports, often from unstable countries, for 50 % of its energy supply - essentially from fossil fuels - simultaneously maintain its competitiveness, comply with its Kyoto commitments and ensure the well-being of its population? This balancing act is further complicated by the prospect of growing energy dependence towards 2020-2030 and the need for urgent action to combat climate change.

3.2.2

One of the suggestions put forward in the Green Paper is that: ‘the Union must maintain its expertise in civil nuclear technology in order to maintain the necessary expertise and develop more efficient fission reactors,’ as part of an approach geared to sustainable development, which reconciles economic development, social balance and respect for the environment. In its response to the Green Paper, the European Parliament confirms the existence of these issues. It must be recognised that maintaining this expertise requires the continued operation of the present reactor population.

3.3   Key research themes in the nuclear sector

3.3.1

Like research into other technologies, the objective of the research conducted in the nuclear sector is to improve performance in the various areas concerned. Under the 6th Euratom FRDP, research has focused on waste and the effects of low radiation doses.

3.3.2

Research into radioactive waste management aims to ensure that control of radioactive waste is as failsafe as possible. Safe industrial solutions have already been found for the permanent disposal of low-level waste, for packaging (vitrification) and for the temporary storage of high-level or long-lived waste.

3.3.2.1

As regards high-level or long-lived waste, research is also being conducted into temporary above-ground and underground (i.e. several dozen metres below ground) storage that would be capable of keeping radioactive waste confined in sealed containers for several centuries. Research is continuing on storage in geological formations and the direct storage of spent fuel.

3.3.2.2

A number of studies are also focusing on the possibility of perfecting the processes used in reprocessing spent fuel so as to separate and then ‘transmute’ (transform into radioactive elements with a shorter lifespan) the most toxic types of long-lived waste which nowadays are still present in the final waste products. ‘Transmutation’ could be carried out in existing nuclear reactors or in the current prototypes (cf. new innovations).

3.3.3

The research being carried out into new innovations is part of efforts to achieve sustainable development. The global challenge of providing energy for future generations will require the utilisation of the whole spectrum of technologies which can draw on long-term fuel resources.

3.3.4

From an industrial perspective, nuclear power is preparing to meet this challenge, firstly through the introduction, towards 2010, of new evolutionary design or ‘generation 3+’ technologies based on the existing light water reactors and secondly, towards 2035/2040, through the introduction of new ‘4th generation’ types of reactor using different technology (e.g. gas or liquid metal coolants).

3.3.5

Research into new types of reactors has a number of objectives: to make nuclear power more competitive (by shortening the investment period); to improve reactor safety; to minimise the production of waste and to recycle re-usable elements; to foster multi-purpose production, by generating by-products such as hydrogen, as well as electricity. Progress is also awaited in sea water desalination.

3.3.6

Another type of reactor – the HTR (High Temperature Reactor) is situated between the generation 3+ and 4th generation reactors. The HTR is a modular reactor which uses helium at extremely high temperatures as a coolant and is equipped with a direct cycle gas turbine conversion system. The concept is well-known, and technological advances over traditional high temperature cycles should facilitate its translation into practice, although there are still technological barriers to bringing it into industrial operation.

3.3.7

Research into future systems is being conducted at an international level, specifically under the Generation IV programme, initiated by the United States and involving ten countries. Out of around 100 proposals, 19 groups of related concepts have been evaluated and 6 concepts have been selected, many of which comprise several reactor projects. The concepts which are being taken forward are currently at different stages of development and could be ready to be taken up by the nuclear industry at various points after 2035/2040. Some of these concepts will satisfy the wider energy ‘markets’ of heat or hydrogen production.

3.3.8

When they become available, ‘Generation IV’ reactors will make more efficient use of the energy potential of uranium, will also use other fuels (plutonium and thorium) and will burn their own waste products, whilst also being extremely economical and safe and therefore fully meeting sustainable development criteria. All the concepts being taken forward open up extremely promising possibilities with regard to all three of the objectives of the ‘Generation IV’ programme, namely sustainability (efficient use of fuel resources and minimisation of waste), safety and economy. Like the existing reactors, they will be equipped with all the available guarantees concerning non-proliferation of nuclear material for military purposes, whilst the generating reactors all have a closed fuel cycle.

3.3.9

The R & D programmes conducted under EURATOM have made protection against radiation a priority theme and cover a broad spectrum of research including: study of the effects of low doses (from the perspective of cellular and molecular biology as well as epidemiology); exposure during medical procedures, in particular the development of radiotherapies tailored to individual patients' sensitivity to radiation, and exposure to natural sources of radiation; protection of the environment and radiation ecology; risk management and emergency response and protection at the workplace. Cutting edge techniques, such as genomics and biotechnology, are used in all these areas of research, whose findings are already being used – and will continue to be used in the future - to improve both methods of protecting people and the environment and the related protection standards.

3.3.10

The safety of nuclear installations is naturally one of the priority areas for nuclear research. Here too, the EURATOM research and development programmes (9) have clearly identified the key priorities and stressed that, at European level, the most important issue is to improve the safety of existing nuclear installations in the Member States and in the acceding and candidate countries. Research in this sector will focus on the management of these installations - including the effects of installation ageing - and fuel performance and will also cover management of serious accidents, in particular the development of advanced digital simulation codes. Benefits will also be drawn from capacity and knowledge-sharing amongst the European partners involved in the dismantling of nuclear installations and from cooperative work to establish a scientific basis for nuclear safety and to exchange best practice at European level.

3.3.11

Lastly, looking further forward to equally promising developments, it is important to mention research into controlled thermonuclear fusion, which is the subject of an own-initiative opinion currently being drawn up by the EESC.

4.   PART FOUR: HEALTH, PROTECTION AGAINST RADIATION AND SAFETY

4.1   Biological effects of radiation

4.1.1

Ionising radiation acts by to tearing electrons (ionisation) from the main atoms which make up living matter. This radiation can be made up either of particles (alpha or beta) or electromagnetic rays (X rays, gamma rays).

4.1.2

Ionising radiation is measured according to an ‘activity’ scale, which calculates the number of emissions per second. The unit of measurement employed is the becquerel (Bq) which represents one emission per second (the Curie (Ci) represents the activity of one gram of radium, or 37 billion becqerels).

4.1.3

Living organisms have been exposed to ionising radiation since the very beginning of time – and in fact partially owe their evolution to it. Today, we are continually exposed to ionising radiation from our own bodies (6,000 to 8,000 Bq) and from our environment: the earth, which contains uranium (650,000 Bq for a cubic metre of earth), the air, which contains radon, the sky, from cosmic rays, and such familiar products as sea water (10 Bq/litre) or milk (50 Bq/litre).

4.1.4

The effects of ionising radiation are measured in terms of the ‘absorbed dose’ using the gray (1 joule per kilogram of body tissue), and the ‘effective dose’ using the sievert, which is based on the total amount of radiation absorbed by each organ, with coefficients that take account of the nature of the radiation (high or low risk) and of the tissue (high or low sensitivity).

4.1.5

Expressed as an effective dose, natural and medical exposure to ionising radiation (accounting for 30 %) in Paris or Brussels stands at around 2.5 mSv/year (a thousandth of a sievert per year). It reaches levels of approximately 5 mSv/year in granite sites such as the Massif Central in France and is over 20mSv/year in some areas of the world (e.g. Iran and Kerala). For a European, by way of comparison, radiation from the nuclear industry represents around 15 μSv/year (a millionth of a sievert per year).

4.1.6

The human body possesses its own systems for repairing the damage caused to its chromosomes by ionising radiation. This explains why doses of ionising radiation administered at low rates are not carcinogenic (or have never been proved to have a carcinogenic effect) and that cancer levels are not higher in areas of the world where natural radiation reaches a level of 20 mSv/year.

4.1.7

Ionising radiation may have two types of effect:

4.1.7.1

‘deterministic’ or ‘non random’ effects above 700 mSv; as these effects only appear once particular thresholds are reached, protecting oneself is a relatively straightforward matter of ensuring that one's exposure remains below the threshold and within a certain margin of protection;

4.1.7.2

‘random effects,’ which fall into two categories: the first category is radiation-induced carcinogenesis, whose likelihood increases proportional to dose; cancers have only been demonstrated to occur with doses of over 100-200 m Sv for adults and 50-100 mSv for children; the second category is the appearance of congenital, hereditary malformations; this effect, which has been proven to occur in mice, has never been scientifically proven in humans, neither in the populations affected by Hiroshima-Nagasaki nor in those affected by Chernobyl.

4.2   Policy on protection against ionising radiation

4.2.1

Current policy on protection against ionising radiation is determined in various stages and involves the intervention of a number of different international and national bodies.

4.2.2

At the ‘initial’ level, the UNSCEAR (10) (a UN body whose members are appointed by national governments) and, above all the ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection - an independent international organisation) analyse the scientific literature and draw up recommendations in the form of reports. For example, ICRP report No. 73 focuses on radiation exposure resulting from medical treatment.

At the next level (in Europe) the European Community adapts the texts of the ICRP in the form of Recommendations or Directives. For example, ICRP 73 led to Euratom Directive 97/43 on health protection of individuals against the dangers of ionising radiation in relation to medical exposure.

Lastly, the Member States transpose the EU Recommendations or Directives into national law.

4.2.3

The basic standards (11) for the protection of the general public against ionising radiation are extremely strict and lay down a limit for additional exposure resulting from the activities of the nuclear industry of 1 mSv per person per year. This regulatory threshold, which has no correlation with the figures discussed in the chapter on the biological effects of radiation, was essentially determined on the basis of the technical capacities of the nuclear industry.

4.2.4

The basic standards for the protection of workers in the nuclear industry lay down a maximum dose of 100 mSv over five consecutive years, or an annual average of 20 mSv, provided that the dose does not exceed 50 mSv in the course of a single year.

4.2.5

Companies using nuclear technology have made continuous progress. To cite just one example, within the company with the greatest number of nuclear installations in the EU, the annual doses for workers exposed to radiation have fallen from 4.6 mSv in 1992 to 2.03 mSv in 2002.

4.2.6

This outcome has been achieved by first subjecting operations in exposed areas systematically to the yardstick of ‘justification, optimisation and limitation’. To give concrete expression to these three principles on an industrial scale, a procedure of ‘ALARA’ (as low as reasonably achievable) was developed by all operators.

4.3   The principles behind safety procedures

4.3.1

Nuclear safety relies on a body of provisions relating to the planning, construction, operation, closure and decommissioning of nuclear installations and the transport of radioactive materials.

4.3.2

These provisions, which aim to avert accidents and limit the effects of any which might occur, are based on the principle of ‘defence in depth’, which involves the systematic use of multiple barriers against any escape of radioactivity from nuclear plants:

prevention to avoid faults: mainly through ensuring compliance with operating procedures;

monitoring (or detection) aimed at anticipating faults through tests and/or controls: this can take the form of regular testing of the materials necessary to ensure safety;

action or treatment to limit the consequences of a fault and ensure that it does not re-occur;

systematic analysis of events that might be the precursors of a worsening situation.

A distinction can be made between three types of provision:

material – relating to the design and reliability of nuclear installations;

organisational – relating to the clear definition of each player's responsibilities in the work of the installation, relevant controls and the provision of appropriate resources required by given situations, particularly emergencies;

human – to ensure that people's actions are based on specific training relevant to their job and responsibilities and on a culture of safety, which motivates each player to be rigorous and vigilant.

4.4   Responsibility for and monitoring of safety

4.4.1

Responsibility for nuclear safety falls to the operator of the installation concerned, who acts under the supervision – and according to the rules established by – the national safety authority.

As a result of international exchanges between national safety authorities and/or nuclear operators, indicators on the quality of the various installations are published on a regular basis. Regular exchanges are organised through international inspections (such as OSART (Operational Safety Review Team) under the auspices of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), or ‘Peer Review’ under the aegis of WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators) during which nuclear plants are visited by a team of international experts.

4.4.2

These indicators show that there has been a continuous improvement in the performances of nuclear installations in the European Union and in particular that there has been a reduction both in the number of ‘significant incidents’ (level 1 on the 7-level INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) and in emissions of radiation into the environment.

4.4.3

The European Commission recently established a Community mechanism for verifying the effectiveness of national nuclear safety provisions (COM(2003) 32 final). On this occasion, the Committee noted that, in this area, European directives on safety of nuclear installations and the corresponding monitoring procedures should make it clear that the current remit of Member States' safety authorities will remain unchanged and that the operators of nuclear installations will also continue to bear sole responsibility for safety. This last requirement is also consistent with the polluter-pays principle, which the Committee considers to be very important.

5.   THE ECONOMIC ISSUES INVOLVED IN USING NUCLEAR POWER IN ELECTRICITY GENERATION

5.1

Nuclear generated electricity is extremely expensive in terms of capital, but its operating costs are proportionately very low and very stable. It is worth noting that there are 362 electricity-generating nuclear power stations across the OECD and that today these are generally competitive within their own markets, whether or not these are deregulated.

5.2

In the long term, the competitiveness of nuclear generated electricity is closely dependent on which scenarios are adopted for other sources of energy, particularly natural gas, which now seems to be the benchmark in view of the need to reduce CO2 emissions. A major advantage for nuclear power is still the ability to post a stable - as well as a competitive - price at a time when prices on the internal electricity market are starting to lurch upwards as supply/demand equilibrium comes under pressure (as demonstrated by the Nordel network during the winter of 2002/2003).

5.3

The competitiveness of nuclear power depends on the cost of investment. For a financial return of 5 %, nuclear power is demonstrably competitive in over a quarter of the OECD countries which in 1998 provided data on their studies of electricity production investment for 2005. For a return of 10 %, nuclear power is no longer competitive.

5.4

However, the results of the study published in 1998 rely on the hypotheses adopted by the IEA (International Energy Agency), which are based on gas prices over the next 25 years being lower than in 2000 and less than half their 1980 value in real terms. However, it is extremely unlikely that gas prices will not rise considerably over the complete lifespan of a nuclear power station (40 to 60 years).

5.5

The key question is the financial risk facing operators investing in electricity production in what has become a highly competitive market. This is leading nuclear industry operators to re-examine the issue of the size of production units. Until now, the tendency has been to increase size in order to achieve economies of scale. Given the new characteristics of the electricity market, it is now essential to look at projects that respond to lower unit capacity requirements. For countries such as Finland, France and Japan, nuclear power still remains the most economical way to generate electricity.

5.6

The constructors of nuclear installations (AREVA-Framatome and BNFL/ Westinghouse) are currently signalling falling costs for light water reactors, which could be somewhere in the order of 25 % compared with the prices of reactors currently in operation. The real test will be the TVO consultation carried out in Finland, since this company has obtained all the necessary agreements to invest in a new nuclear power station.

5.7

For the GIF (Generation IV International Forum) studies, an international collaboration scheme for research into future nuclear technology, the objective is a 50 % reduction in capital expenditure together with reductions in construction time, to bring the level of financial risk closer to that in other sectors of energy production.

5.8

In the longer term, the economic competitiveness of the nuclear industry will also depend on the price of renewables. Renewable energies are mostly intermittent, and therefore require complementary installations for producing or storing electricity, meaning that they will remain expensive as long as no major progress is made.

5.9

It should be noted that the price of nuclear generated electricity includes the costs of waste processing and plant decommissioning, which is generally estimated at 15 % of a plant's initial cost.

5.10

Among the factors that help shape choices and decisions, it should also be mentioned that in the EU, the civilian nuclear industry currently employs 400,000 people in jobs that are generally highly skilled.

5.11

Although not an economic issue as such, the downward pressure on costs that normally accompanies a competitive deregulated market and its impact on the steps taken to improve the safety of installations and the security of workers and the population at large could become an issue. The EESC believes that this is a point to which the Commission should pay very careful attention in its proposals for provisions in the field of safety.

6.   CONCLUSIONS

6.1

From the data collected from existing EU publications, specialist agencies, experts' hearings and industrialists, which are included in this opinion, the EESC feels it should particularly stress the following points when considering the issues involved in using nuclear power in electricity generation.

6.2

Nuclear energy produces a significant proportion (35 %) of the EU's electricity and makes up 15 % of primary energy consumption. It makes a major contribution towards ensuring security of supply and reducing the EU's energy dependence.

6.3

It leads to the avoidance of 300 to 500 Mt of CO2 emissions per year, thereby making a very useful contribution towards the range of solutions enabling the commitments made at Kyoto to be respected.

6.4

It ensures stable production prices and therefore contributes to price stability in the EU and removes a source of uncertainty for economic operators about their future prospects.

6.5

When the current nuclear power stations come to the end of their lifespan, renewables will not be able to rise to the challenge of both replacing them and responding to rising electricity demand, even though the development of this form of energy is desirable and encouraged by the EU (see Directive 2001-77 EC). For instance, wind power has only a relatively low and generally unpredictable level of availability, of the order of 2,000 to 2,500 hours a year.

6.6

Control of energy demand must help make human activity less energy-intensive (both in business and private life), but this is not enough to justify stopping nuclear energy production entirely; because of the quantities involved, control will have to focus on uses other than electricity, such as transport.

6.7

The issues raised by nuclear power are safety, protection against the physiological effects of ionising radiation, waste and spent fuel. The first two are already the subject of technical and regulatory responses, which will evolve over time. The increased risk of attacks from the outside which society and industrial activities in general have to face is a factor which has to be taken into account by the public authorities and industry in their safety and protection policies.

6.8

Some EU Member States are making progress in resolving the issue of nuclear waste. Two countries (Finland and Sweden) have chosen the solution and even the site; other countries (France and Spain) have adopted solutions for low-level products and are continuing investigations into higher-level products; the EU Commission has taken steps under the Euratom Treaty to speed up the process. A packaging industry for high-level products has been set up in France and the United Kingdom. Storage is a reality and the fact that other research is continuing does not mean that no solution has been found.

6.9

On the basis of the points made in this opinion and the conclusions which precede, the EESC considers, like the Green Paper, that nuclear power should be one of the elements of a diversified, balanced, economic and sustainable energy policy for the EU. In view of the issues which it raises, staking everything on nuclear power is not an option which should be considered; on the other hand, the EESC considers that a partial or total abandonment of nuclear power would compromise the EU's chances of respecting its commitments on the climate issue. It goes without saying that under the subsidiarity principle a consensual choice of energy sources for the future must be made by the Member States who are in a position to take account of specific national circumstances.

6.10

The EESC suggests that, in follow-up to this opinion, efforts should be made to provide information on the real issues of the nuclear industry: security of supply, elimination of CO2 emissions, competitive prices and the safety and management of spent fuel, so that organised civil society can carry out a critical analysis of the debates on these issues.

Brussels, 25 February 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH


(1)  The Commission established this figure with reference to the equivalent electricity generation by gas. However, if the actual energy mix of the past ten years is taken as the reference, the equivalent of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided annually through the use of nuclear power.

(2)  Economic Evaluation of Sectoral Emission Reduction Emissions for Climate Change, Bottom-up Reports, Energy, European Commission-Environment, March 2001, chapter 1.3.4.

(3)  Cf. footnote 2.

(4)  The Shared Analysis Project, Economic Foundations for Energy Policy – Directorate General for Energy.

(5)  Extract from COM(2003) 32 final – CNS 2003/0022, paragraph 5 in the section ‘Situation in the EU Member States and candidate countries’.

(6)  The European energy outlook to 2010 and 2030, P. Capros and L. Mantzos, 2000

(7)  World energy, technology and climate policy outlook 2030 –WETO – Directorate General for Research Energy, 2003.

(8)  The most recent data provided by the Commission list 1,650 Mtoe in 2000 and 1,968 Mtoe in 2030 for the EU of 25.

(9)  The following areas correspond to the priority thematic areas for research set out in the specific programme for research in the nuclear sector, which will be covered by the 6th EURATOM RTD Framework Programme.

(10)  United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

(11)  A European Directive adopted in May 1996 under the Euratom Treaty (dir 96/29) lays down maximum doses for the general public and workers in the nuclear industry.


APPENDIX I

to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following amendments, which received at least one quarter of the votes cast, were rejected in the discussion:

Introduction

Amend sixth paragraph as follows:

‘It must be said that since 1992 the question of safety in nuclear power stations in the acceding countries and those applying for EU membership has been under review, and upgrading programmes have been in operation, involving decisions to shut down or re-organise plants and provide safety training where necessary. Constant surveillance of operators and safety authorities in the Member States concerned remains necessary in order to maintain, and indeed improve, safety levels maintain and further develop the highest standards of safety. The terrorist attacks of 11.9.2001 have undoubtedly brought a new dimension to the issue of safety at nuclear power plants.

Reason

Safety at nuclear power plants should not merely be maintained at the current level but, where necessary, improved. Thus, for example, they should certainly be protected against aircraft impacts.

Result of vote

For: 34, Against: 60, Abstentions: 8

Point 1.1.3

Amend as follows:

‘Nuclear power is used to generate electricity in thirty-two three out of the 192 countries in the world. In 18 of these countries no new nuclear power stations are being built. According to the figures for 2002, its share in overall electricity generation ranged from 80 % in Lithuania and 77 % in France to 1.4 % in China. The fact that 32 new power reactors are being planned or in some cases are under construction demonstrates that, despite high economic, safety and political risks, nuclear energy is an expanding sector of industry world-wide outside the EU, in some cases in countries in which the military use of fissile material cannot be excluded and that the EU must not neglect it in its formulation of both energy and industry policy. Withi In the EU the go-ahead for the construction of a nuclear power station was given for the last time in 1985, until in Finland January 2002, when the Finnish company TVO obtained a decision from its government in January 2002 agreeing to the ’principle‘ of constructing agreement in principle to allow the construction of a fifth nuclear power station, and this decision was approved by parliament in May 2002. No official application for planning consent has, however, so far been submitted.

Reason

The text gives the impression that there continues to be a great demand for new nuclear power stations throughout the world (Europe included). This is not the case. Some of the nuclear power plants ‘under construction’ have in fact been mothballed for years. In Europe the last application for construction of a new nuclear plant was made some twenty years ago.

Result of vote

For: 30, Against: 58, Abstentions: 9

Add a new point 1.1.4 after point 1.1.3:

‘In the EU of 15 Member States 145 nuclear plants are at present generating power in 8 Member States. Portugal, Greece, Italy (since 1987), Austria (referendum 1978), Luxembourg and Ireland make no use of nuclear power. In the Netherlands one reactor is still operational, a second having been decommissioned in 1997. Spain (with 9 nine reactors) and Belgium (see point 1.1.5) have adopted a moratorium. In Great Britain (35 reactors) the nuclear power industry is facing very serious economic problems and can only survive thanks to subsidies from levies on other forms of energy.’

Reason

If the situation in the EU is to be described, it should be done fully.

Result of vote

For: 36, Against: 55, Abstentions: 8

Point 1.1.11

Amend as follows:

‘According to the figures for 2002, the EU-15 generated 855.6 TWh or 35 % of its electricity using nuclear power. There will be no significant change in this ratio with EU enlargement and the accession of the 10 new Member States in 2004. Thus, nuclear power is the most at present an important source of electricity production, and, with its share in primary energy consumed in the EU (15 %), it is an important factor as regards the security of the EU's energy supply This will only be the case, however, for as long as existing reactors, which are already approaching the end of their lives, are still in operation. If this share of power generation is to be maintained in the medium to long term, for example because it is felt that it will be impossible to compensate for its loss through increased energy efficiency, renewable energy sources etc, it will be necessary to build a sufficiently large number of new nuclear plants. It is by no means clear to what extent the construction of an estimated 100 new nuclear plants would be politically acceptable.

Reason

With a 35 % share, nuclear power is not the most important source of electricity production, merely an important source. Even if this opinion is not intended to debate energy policy, it should however at least be clearly stated that in the EU we have to answer an important question: Is the construction of (a large number of) new nuclear power stations politically feasible? The EESC must not sweep this question under the carpet.

Result of vote

For: 36, Against: 65, Abstentions: 8

Point 1.2.9

Amend the final paragraph as follows:

‘Lastly, abandoning the use of nuclear power in electricity generation would lead to a ’positive gap‘ of 300 Mt annually in CO2 emissions in the energy sector. This figure can, however, be reduced if nuclear power is phased out over an extended period, new power-generating capacity based on renewable energy sources developed and efficiency-boosting measures stepped up.

Reason

The emission figures quoted are a snapshot and do not shed any light on future emission levels, as these depend on trends in energy demand, energy intensity and power generation capacity.

Result of vote

For: 32, Against: 66, Abstentions: 9

Point 1.3.3

Amend as follows:

Definitive Ttechnical solutions for managing the management and temporary and final storage of this sort of waste are already known still being sought given the problems inherent in storing dangerous substances. For low-level, short-lived waste, an acceptable solution might be surface storage, and this course of action has already been officially decided on and implemented by some Member States.This does not, however, mean that safe forms of storage already exist. For high-level or long-lived waste, the standard technical solution that is recognised internationally by the experts is storage in deep geological strata, but surface storage is a temporary solution while the Member States concerned decide democratically which management option to adopt.The EU has neither a final storage facility nor the necessary long-term experience. It must be pointed out that for these products, surface packaging and storage must comply with legitimate safety requirements and this provisional solution is managed pending the implementation of ultimate solutions. The nuclear package proposed by the Commission under the Euratom Treaty aims to speed up the decision-making process for geological storage. Clearly, the safety criteria which a final storage facility must meet if it is to remain safe for a million years are extremely high. The costs of such final storage should be reflected in power generation costs.

Reason

It is simply not true that practicable solutions exist for all problems connected with the (final) storage of nuclear waste.

Result of vote

For: 34, Against: 68, Abstentions: 7

Point 2.1

Add the following paragraph at the end of the point.

‘In view of the large number of uncertain variables (...) the effects of energy consumption on the environment and the climate need to be taken into account.

Scenario studies attempt to predict the various possible development paths of energy supply in the future. They are intended to model alternative options for public discussion with the aim of achieving a consensus-based energy supply concept. However, this approach also demonstrates the essential foundations of such an energy blueprint.

Reason

Self-explanatory. The addition makes sense here in terms of clarifying the role of the studies discussed in detail later in the text.

Result of vote

For: 32, Against: 60, Abstentions: 15

Point 2.3

Amend as follows:

‘Both reports use models which extrapolate from ongoing trends, including structural changes and technical progress. Each assumes that there will be no fundamental change in investment decisions relating to energy during the period in question, e.g. substantial growth in the share of investment in renewable energy sources or an increase in energy efficiency compared with the current trend, as a result of political decisions. Although this means that they cannot incorporate new and radically different policies, the impossibility of making serious forecasts about changes to ongoing trends makes this a minor problem. This opinion therefore draws on these studies to elucidate the nature of the issues involved rather than to predict future patterns.’

Reason

Both the studies in question essentially provide reference scenarios, which do not take into account such changes in investment flows, which are technically and economically defensible. If such decisions were to be taken, which cannot be ruled out, the decrease in energy intensity might accelerate appreciably, e.g. owing to existing possibilities. This is by no means a pipe dream, but is consistent with EU policy. In its current proposal for an energy efficiency Directive (COM(2003) 739 final of 10 December 2003), the European Commission proposes using political measures to boost the rate of increase in energy efficiency, currently averaging 1.5 % p.a., by at least 1 % annually over the next few years. This would substantially reduce energy consumption.

Result of vote

For: 33, Against: 64, Abstentions: 10

Point 2.5

Amend as follows:

‘The outcome of this research is that, with no additional changes to the technologies and legislation in place in 2000 (when both studies were published) it will be extremely difficult to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions, either at global level, or within the enlarged EU.

These two studies demonstrate that, looking at all the technologies currently available, the contribution of nuclear energy would be just as important to climate control as that of renewables.

If nuclear power plants are kept in operation, their contribution to solving the problem of climate change in the next few years, based on current technology, could be comparable to the contribution of renewable energy.

In any case, over the long term only renewable energy and improved energy efficiency will solve the climate change problem, since the raw material of atomic energy, uranium, is a finite resource.

Reason

The qualification (‘If nuclear plants are kept in operation...’) reflects the fact that one of the two scenarios considered excludes nuclear energy and only the other involves keeping nuclear plants in operation. Thus the claim made in this sentence can be based on only one scenario (maintenance of nuclear energy), not on both. The potential additional emissions forecast in the phasing-out scenario could be avoided by keeping nuclear power plants in operation (i.e. not phasing them out), but equally by stepping up efforts to introduce renewable energy and improve energy efficiency or through other possible measures. This is not mentioned, however.

Result of vote

For: 29, Against: 62, Abstentions: 9

Point 3.3.2

Amend as follows:

‘Research into radioactive waste management must aims to ensure that control of radioactive waste is as absolutely failsafe as possible. No absolutely Ssafe industrial solutions have already been found yet for the permanent disposal of low-level waste, for packaging (vitrification) and for the temporary storage of high-level or long-lived waste. However, the Committee would like to know how long research in this industrial sector should be seen as a public responsibility and receive public funding.

Reason

In point 3.1.1 the rapporteur already notes that ‘nuclear energy indubitably makes the most intense demands on R&D’. The question must be raised of how long the public sector should be involved in research activity in this industrial sector, especially as it is clear that, since uranium is a finite resource, atomic energy also has a limited lifespan.

Result of vote

For: 29, Against: 72, Abstentions: 7

Point 4.1.6

Delete point.

Reason

This sweeping statement is untenable.

Result of vote

For: 43, Against: 58, Abstentions: 9

Point 4.3.1

Add a new point 4.3.1

‘4.3.1

For many years what worried people most about nuclear power generation were the risks inherent in normal operation and possible accidents. The terrible Chernobyl disaster showed that, on the one hand, human error cannot be completely excluded and, on the other, that it is impossible to make safety plans covering every eventuality. It would be too simplistic to ascribe Chernobyl to the shortcomings of a particular political system. The accident at the Harrisburg nuclear power plant in the USA and the still unexplained clusters of leukaemia cases around German nuclear power plants show that ’western‘ reactors too are certainly in need of critical assessment.

Reason

Self-explanatory.

Result of vote

For: 32, Against: 63, Abstentions: 8

Point 4.3.2

Add a new point 4.3.2:

‘4.3.2

A new, serious and hitherto unknown risk connected with nuclear power generation is the threat of terrorism – and potentially also armed conflict. The nuclear power industry is the only kind of power generation that might be of any fundamental interest to terrorists. When the nuclear industry was first conceived, such a threat was wholly unimaginable for engineers and politicians alike. Unfortunately, however, the times have changed dramatically and the discussion must not ignore the fact. The extent to which it is possible to avert such substantial risks in our democratic countries governed by the rule of law is questionable. In politically unstable countries, such risks are many times greater.

Reason

Self-explanatory.

Result of vote

For: 32, Against: 68, Abstentions: 8

Point 5.1

Amend as follows:

‘Nuclear generated electricity is extremely expensive in terms of capital, but its operating costs are proportionately very low and very stable. Reasons for that include high levels of grants and subsidies, the use of technologies the cost of which has been written off, tax-free reserves, the fact that the full cost of storage is not taken into account, insufficient risk insurance and high levels of research support. As a result of these and other factors It is worth noting that there are 362 electricity-generating nuclear power stations across the OECD and that, today these under the given conditions, are generally competitive within their own markets, whether or not these are deregulated It must be recognised, however, that, in the UK, for example, all moves to privatise nuclear electricity production have failed. That is the surest indication that economic uncertainties do certainly also exist.

Reason

Self-explanatory.

Result of vote

For: 26, Against: 69, Abstentions: 6

Point 5.2

Amend as follows:

‘In the long term, the competitiveness of nuclear generated electricity is closely dependent on which scenarios are adopted for other sources of energy, particularly natural gas, which now seems to be the benchmark in view of the need to reduce CO2 emissions. A major advantage for nuclear power is still the ability to post a stable - as well as a competitive - price at a time when prices on the internal electricity market are starting to lurch upwards as supply/demand equilibrium comes under pressure (as demonstrated by the Nordel network during the winter of 2002/2003). The competitiveness of nuclear energy varies, depending on the price of gas. It can also help secure stable prices on the internal electricity market by reducing the impact of upsets in the supply/demand equilibrium that are inherent in the single market (look at what happened with the Nordel network in Scandinavia in the winter of 2002/2003), thereby preventing such upsets from causing excessive fluctuations in price.

Reason

The first sentence of the amendment explains the first sentence of point 5.2 by correctly stating that the competitiveness of nuclear energy is currently determined first and foremost in relation to the price of gas. In contrast, the original sentence (‘A major advantage...’ ) is phrased in absolute terms and thus directly contradicts the preceding statement. It must therefore be deleted. The second sentence of the amendment explains the mechanics of price stability.

Result of vote

For: 27, Against: 65, Abstentions: 9

Point 5.3

Amend as follows:

‘The competitiveness of nuclear power depends on the cost of investment, subsidies and the overall energy context. For a financial return of 5 %, nuclear power is demonstrably competitive in over a quarter of the OECD countries which in 1998 provided data on their studies of electricity production investment for 2005. For a return of 10 %, nuclear power is no longer competitive.’

Reason

Self-explanatory.

Result of vote

For: 38, Against: 63, Abstentions: 6

Point 5.10

Amend as follows:

‘Among the factors that help shape choices and decisions, it should also be mentioned that in the EU, the civilian nuclear industry currently employs 400,000 people in jobs that are generally highly skilled. As many – if not more – additional jobs will be created in the EU by the intensive expansion and ongoing development of renewable energies and energy-efficiency technologies.

Reason

Given the precarious employment situation, particular attention should be paid to markets that may, potentially, generate new jobs. The projected number of jobs appears conservative given estimates from the German construction workers' trade union IG Bau of some 200,000 additional jobs in the German building insulation industry alone, and Eurosolar's predictions of some 500,000 potential additional jobs in the EU's renewable energy sector.

Result of vote

For: 28, Against: 61, Abstentions: 18

Point 5.11

Amend as follows:

‘Although not an economic issue as such, the downward pressure on costs that normally accompanies a competitive deregulated market and its impact on the steps taken to improve the safety of installations and the security of workers and the population at large could become an issue. Large operators have already made substantial staff cuts. The EESC believes that this is a point to which the Commission should pay very careful attention in its proposals for provisions in the field of safety.’

Reason

Self-explanatory.

Result of vote

For: 28, Against: 63, Abstentions: 18

Point 6.3

Amend as follows:

‘It leads to the avoidance of 300 to 500 Mt of CO2 emissions per year, thereby making a very useful contribution towards the range of solutions enabling the commitments made at Kyoto to be respected.’

Reason

The amendment reflects the change to point 1.2.9.

Result of vote

For: 27, Against: 67, Abstentions: 12

Point 6.4

Amend as follows:

‘It ensures stable production prices and therefore contributes to price stability in the EU and removes a source of uncertainty for economic operators about their future prospects. Long-term economic and safety considerations, however, lead to a different cost assessment.

Reason

Self-explanatory.

Result of vote

For: 31, Against: 65, Abstentions: 6

Point 6.5

Amend as follows:

When the current nuclear power stations come to the end of their lifespan, Renewables will not be able to cannot at present rise to the challenge of both replacing current nuclear power stations them and responding to rising electricity demand which in some cases is still rising, even though the development of this form of energy is desirable and encouraged by the EU (see Directive 2001-77 EC). There also remain structural obstacles to this: for instance, wind power currently has only a relatively low and generally unpredictable availability, of the order of 2,000 to 2,500 hours a year. However, all this could change significantly, for example through energy efficiency measures, the further development of permanently available energy sources such as biomass, etc.

Reason

Renewable energy is only just being introduced into the market. In particular, biomass and geothermal energy, constantly available renewable energy sources that would be able to replace nuclear energy even in those areas where it performs best, are at a very early stage. This is also true of storage systems that would be able to make intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar energy capable of bearing a constant load. It should therefore be made clear that the circumstances described are a snapshot of the current situation.

Result of vote

For: 27, Against: 54, Abstentions: 16

Point 6.6

Add new point 6.6:

‘6.6

The point that significant strategic decisions must soon be taken in the EU is an important one for the EESC. The lifespan of the existing nuclear power stations is gradually coming to an end. Europe thus faces the question of whether to begin a new generation of nuclear power usage and indeed to what extent society will accept this. The latter important question is for politicians to resolve. Alternatively, do we want, as of now, to start making every possible effort to move towards an age where energy policy will involve the use neither of fossil fuels nor of nuclear energy? The need eventually to achieve this is not a matter of 'yes' or 'no', but of 'when'.’

Reason

We depend on fossil fuels, mostly in the form of stored solar energy (coal, oil and gas) and from uranium, of which reserves are equally finite. It is simply a matter of when we move into a new age of energy use. The EESC cannot duck this question.

Result of vote

For: 32, Against: 58, Abstentions: 15

Point 6.6

Amend point 6.6 as follows:

‘Control of energy demand must help make human activity less energy-intensive (both in business and private life). In respect of electricity, there is great untapped potential in this area, which needs to be exploited. Exploiting that potential alone is not, however, enough to compensate for stopping nuclear power production entirely. Furthermore, greater potential for reducing energy intensity lies in the areas of heating and transport. The transport sector in particular requires special attention, in order to achieve an effective reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in this area and at the same time ensure sustainable mobility.

Reason

These conclusions can logically be drawn from the scenarios described in Part 2 of the opinion.

Result of vote

For: 34, Against: 59, Abstentions: 13

Point 6.9

Delete point and replace as follows:

Notwithstanding the continued public controversy over nuclear power in EU Member States, the EESC concludes that, on the basis of the subsidiarity principle, it is primarily up to the relevant national decision-makers to achieve a consensus as to the sustainable future energy mix. The particular circumstances of each country must be taken into consideration, in particular the extent to which energy sources are available within that country. It is these sources that should be used as a matter of preference, in order to reduce the EU's heavy dependence on energy imports, which the European Commission's Green Paper on security of supply has already identified as a priority. It is beyond dispute that renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency have a very important role to play here, since they reduce dependence on imports and do not produce climate-changing greenhouse gases. The development of renewable energy and efficiency technologies is an important building block on Europe's road to becoming a knowledge-based, highly developed, competitive and export-oriented region and thus to fulfilling the Lisbon agreements with respect to the energy sector. In addition, new jobs can thus be created.

Reason

The text is self-explanatory in terms of its content, whilst also being consistent with previous EU statements on energy policy. This paragraph also takes the necessary step of placing nuclear power in the context of the overall debate on a sustainable energy mix.

Result of vote

For: 33, Against: 61, Abstentions: 13