František Pazdera Chairman of the SNETP Governing Board
Nowadays, achieving and maintaining the three EU Energy Policy pillars related to “security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability”, “global competition” and “climate change policy” is more important than ever before. This is particularly true if we think about the political instability and economic crisis affecting the planet. This has also been recently reflected in two European Commission Communications: European Energy Security Strategy and Energy Technologies and Innovation. The European Union, therefore, must have a strong and dynamic technology and innovation strategy to deliver its policy goals, strengthen its competitiveness and better coordinate investments.
We are currently facing new barriers, challenges and opportunities, including:
- the implementation of liberalised markets to optimise the use of existing infrastructure, with the risk of failing to stimulate the new investment neded to guarantee generation adequacy and decarbonisation;
- the role of the European Union’s Emission Trading System, which can guarantee short term cost-effective compliance with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets, but which will have a negligible impact on variable cost electricity in 2050 (thus not guaranteeing long-term return on investments);
- electricity market integration with a growing share of intermittent renewables, which might jeopardise grid stability; and
- the decarbonisation of the heat and transport sector, which is necessary not only to decrease GHG emissions, but also to limit EU dependence on oil and gas imports (this will lead to a need for more electricity, and consequently to the integration of energy markets etc.).
Success in this field requires new technologies and a robust energy policy, which means an EU energy policy based on the energy policies of the Member States and the instruments to implement them.
Despite not being politically accepted in many MS, nuclear energy is a very important part of the existing EU energy mix, as it brings substantial benefits to the EU as a whole with respect to all three of the objectives mentioned above. The 131 nuclear power reactors (122 GWe, representing the highest installed capacity in the world) operating in 14 of the 28 EU MS produce 27% of overall EU electricity (833 TWh) and over half the low-carbon electricity produced in the EU (with a major impact on GHG emissions), substantially contributing to a decrease in imported fossil fuel. This has a positive impact on the security of energy supply and is a low variable cost technology for electricity production with a very positive impact on the market price for electricity.
The EU nuclear industry (a significant part of which is also located in MS that object to nuclear energy on their territory) is well positioned on global markets and has a leading position in closing the nuclear fuel cycle as well as in preparing deep geological repositories. In order to maintain direct and indirect benefits for society (employment, export impact on GDP and low environmental emissions) it is necessary to:
- Maintain the safe, reliable and efficient long term operation of the existing fleet of GEN II and III reactors, with a viable support infrastructure;
- Strengthen industry leadership in the cost-effective construction of GEN III reactors, as a technology for MS with new built strategy now, and for the replacement of existing reactors later;
- Bring to commercial operation deep geological repositories for high level radioactive waste and spent fuel (if not reprocessed within a closed fuel cycle strategy);
- Explore and demonstrate cogeneration technology for potential application in the heat and transport sector to extend the market applicability of nuclear energy;
- Develop fast reactor and closed fuel cycle technology to multiply fuel utilisation by more than an order of magnitude, to transform EU stocks of depleted uranium and spent fuel into a valuable EU domestic energy resource sufficient for thousands of years.
As mentioned above, the EU has recognised the need for various new technologies and in 2007 initiated a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), of which nuclear energy is an integral part. The experience gained and the new energy challenges raised are now reflected in the "SET-Plan Integrated Roadmap", which is currently being finalised.
The Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP), with more than 100 members from industry, research, academia and others, was founded in 2007 to support research, development and innovation for nuclear energy. SNETP defines its strategic orientations around 3 technology pillars for which it has launched specific task forces to implement the pillars and to tackle the SET-Plan challenges:
- NUGENIA covering GEN II and III Light Water Reactors, which aims to maintain safety and competitiveness in fission technologies, together with long-term waste management solutions;
- The European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative (ESNII) covering fast reactor systems with a closed fuel cycle and aiming to complete preparations for the demonstration of a new generation of fission reactors for increased sustainability; and
- The Nuclear Cogeneration Industrial Initiative (NC2I) covering in particular High Temperature Reactors - process heat, electricity and hydrogen, aiming at testing the first co-generation plants which could appear within the next decade as demonstration projects to test the technology for coupling with industrial processes.
SNETP, through its three pillars, has actively participated in the preparation of the SET-Plan Integrated Roadmap to address further R&D required to better integrate different low-carbon energy technologies in future energy systems.
The European Commission’s support for wide R&D cooperation in the field of nuclear technology is of key importance, since nuclear needs a much higher critical mass compared to other technologies, since it is not a mass production technology. In this respect, national governments and the EU play a crucial role for nuclear, this technology having an impact on harmonisation processes, the cost effectiveness of energy production and sustainability.