In the middle of the electoral campaign, French President Emmanuel Macron maintains his commitment to nuclear energy. “We will restart the construction of nuclear reactors in our country and we will continue to develop renewable energies, “he explained this Tuesday. France’s plan for reindustrialization (France 30) involves investing 1,000 million euros in the construction of small nuclear reactors, known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which are characterized by their small powers, their modular design and shorter licensing and construction periods.
With 56 reactors operating, the Gallic territory obtains more than 70% of its electricity from nuclear, which provides it with a tremendously advantageous energy independence in a period of escalating prices, tensions and geopolitical uncertainty. Likewise, it is a cheap type of energy that does not generate emissions into the atmosphere, which significantly accelerates the country’s decarbonization plan. But it is also highly dangerous. An accident in these plants -whether caused by weather factors, aging or by problems in the management of the industry itself- has devastating consequences, and disasters such as that of Fukushima o Chernóbil they are proof of it.
For this reason, Spain, like many European countries, has started dismantling processes of this type of power plant. The Spanish Government continues to rely on the National Comprehensive Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (PINEC) that it aims to phasing out the seven nuclear reactors that are still operational, between 2027 and 2035. Its objective is to reduce current emission levels by more than 30% and lay the foundations to achieve the ultimate goal of fully decarbonizing the economy and being a carbon neutral country by 2050. By 2030, it seeks halve installed nuclear power by shutting down 4 gigawatts (GW).
Division in Glasgow
The discussion on nuclear energy also found space at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow. At this point, debate began among those in favor of legitimizing and reopening the nuclear power plants on the occasion of meet decarbonisation targets, led by France, and the detractors of including nuclear power in the taxonomy of green finance in the European Union, led by Germany.
If this energy received considered favorable in this list, the industry would receive public funds. Against this possibility, the German Minister of the Environment argued that it is a very dangerous energy, slow to create infrastructure and that it does not meet sustainability requirements.
Brussels is also studying including natural gas in that classification. We are talking about a fossil fuel that, although emits less greenhouse gases that oil or coal when producing energy, is still harmful to the environment. While France is pushing for nuclear to take over green label and receive financial aid, Germany will also fight for natural gas to receive the same consideration. For its part, the Spanish Government has indicated that it does not support the inclusion of nuclear energy or natural gas in the list of renewable energies, regardless of whether investments can continue to be made.
Nuclear energy in the EU
More and more countries are betting on the continuity of their nuclear power plants. In fact, some, as is the case in the United States, have authorizations to operate for 60 or even 80 years and to build new plants. Currently there 443 reactors operating throughout the sphere that generate 10% of the world’s electricity and that, specifically, are located in 35 countries. The latest data (from December 2020) from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations, reveal that at that time there were 54 units under construction in 20 countries, including France, China, India, Russia, and Korea. South, United Arab Emirates or Finland.
In the European Union, 13 of the 27 Member States have nuclear power plants. The 107 reactors in operation within the Old Continent annually generate about 26% of the electricity consumed in the EU as a whole. Among them, France stands out. They are followed by Slovakia, with 53% of its electricity of nuclear origin; Ukraine, with 51%, and Hungary, with 48% of the total.