Brussels ‘won’t stand in the way’ of new nuclear plants, says EU climate chief

European Commission Vice-President in charge for European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans speaks on the Commission's proposal of the European Climate Law at the second day of a plenary session at European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 06 October 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Commission “will not stand in the way” of countries that choose to build new nuclear power stations, said EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, who warned however about the life-cycle costs of the technology, “which means that you will be stuck with it for a long, long, long time”.

The European Commission keeps a technology-neutral approach when it comes to nuclear power and will stick to its agnostic stance, said Timmermans, who is vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal at the EU executive.

“The huge advantage of nuclear power, of course, is that it’s emissions-free,” he said on Monday (26 October) during an online chat with Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“If you come to the conclusion that this is your best option, the Commission will certainly not stand in your way,” he said when Birol asked him about his views on nuclear power.

The statement by Timmermans suggests the European Commission will not block state aid for new nuclear projects in Poland and the Czech Republic, which have expressed interest in the technology as a way of meeting EU climate goals.

Last week, Warsaw announced that it would seek the EU’s approval to build a nuclear power station based on US technology, saying it is “impossible these days to build a nuclear power plant without state support”.

The country wants to build 6-9 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear energy capacity as part of plans to phase out coal power. It aims to complete the construction of its first nuclear power plant by 2033 but has not yet worked out a financing scheme.

Under a deal struck earlier that week, the US energy department said Warsaw was likely to buy $18 billion in nuclear technology from US companies.

The Czech Republic, for its part, said it “has no other choice than nuclear energy” in order to meet EU climate goals and would only support higher climate targets if Brussels clears a planned state aid request for the construction of a new nuclear block in Dukovany.

Poland to seek EU approval for state aid to build nuclear plant

Poland will ask the European Commission to approve state aid for the construction of a nuclear power station, the minister responsible for energy infrastructure said on Thursday (22 October).

“It is impossible these days to build a nuclear power plan without …

‘Serious disadvantages’

Although wind and solar power are growing fast, renewables today represent only 15% of the EU’s total electricity generation, Birol remarked, saying nuclear power is “another zero-emission technology” which currently represents “about 27%” of electricity generation in Europe.

Timmermans acknowledged the benefits nuclear power can bring in the transition to a zero-carbon economy but pointed to “serious disadvantages,” such as uranium imports and treatment of radioactive waste.

“The second disadvantage I need to mention is that it’s very expensive,” Timmermans said. “It’s very, very expensive.”

“And if you invest in it, you’re stuck with it for a very, very long period of time,” he added, citing the need to take into account the whole life-cycle of the investment, from building costs to waste treatment.

And given the rapid fall in the cost of solar and wind, Timmermans urged countries that are considering nuclear to decide “in a completely rational way”.

“Do the numbers and then draw your conclusion, that’s my only plea,” he said. “Because if you commit to new nuclear, be aware of the massive, massive levels of investments you will need and be aware of the cost” over the entire life-cycle “which means that you will be stuck with it for a long, long, long time.”

Nuclear power ‘dead and alive’, S&P proclaims

Growing competition from cheap renewable electricity, safety concerns, and rising costs of new plants are slowly driving nuclear power over the edge – except in Russia and China where the industry continues to enjoy extensive state support, S&P said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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