Europe is in the midst of an energy crisis. A growing number of families and businesses are facing the prospect of no longer being able to pay their energy bills. Discussions are already taking place about how to avoid a potential blackout this winter. The reality is that not only is Europe struggling to get hold of enough energy to meet demand, but the cost of its energy imports are also staggeringly high. This crisis has been building over the last two years – the current situation in Ukraine has simply exacerbated a growing issue. But unfortunately, governments are trying to find a short-time solution to what is essentially a long-term problem.
What we are starting to see today is a change in how the public, in particular, view nuclear. Many are starting to question whether the phasing out of nuclear power plants, for example in Germany and Belgium, is really such a good idea (especially when they plan to replace this lost capacity with increased gas imports). And more and more seem open to the idea of building new nuclear reactors.
The reality is that nuclear can bring several benefits to help tackle the current (but likely long-term) energy crisis. Many reports have shown that extending the life of the existing nuclear fleet is the cheapest option. Therefore, in order to try and ensure affordable energy prices, governments need to seriously consider extending the lives of all their entire nuclear fleet (when it is economically and technically justified). But this will only take us up to 2035-2040 and so governments need to start considering the construction of new nuclear reactors in order to provide a solution in the longer term.
The benefits of maintaining the existing nuclear fleet and embarking on a realistic new build programme are multiple. Not only will it contribute towards ensuring an affordable supply of energy it will also help ensure security of supply. First of all because nuclear power plants operate 24/7 and can easily support an energy system which includes variable renewables. Secondly because they reduce dependence on imports of both fossil fuels and raw materials – apart from the fact that only a very minor quantity of uranium is required to produce a massive amount of energy, there are abundant sources of uranium available from a variety of regions.
Beyond the current energy crisis we also have to consider the climate crisis which the world is facing. Here too, nuclear is part of the solution because not only is it low-carbon, it is also sustainable.
This article is part of the NNWI Forum 2022 series.