European leaders call for nuclear industry revival

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 3:49 AM

By Julia Payne and Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European leaders and nuclear experts are set to call for a nuclear energy revival on Thursday at a summit in Brussels, seeking to rebuild the European industry after years of gradual decline.

The political push to expand nuclear – a low-carbon energy source – is part of the drive to meet Europe’s ambitious climate targets. But it faces headwinds including a lack of investment and cost overruns and delays that have plagued recent projects.

Nuclear fell out of favour in Europe over safety concerns following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, which prompted Germany to immediately shut down six nuclear plants and phase out its remaining reactors. The last one shut down in April 2023.

But the need to find alternatives to Russian gas following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the European Union’s commitment to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030 has renewed interest in nuclear power.

“We commit to work to fully unlock the potential of nuclear energy by taking measures such as enabling conditions to support and competitively finance the lifetime extension of existing nuclear reactors,” leaders are set to say in a joint statement, seen by Reuters, at a nuclear energy summit in Brussels.

The statement also commits to the construction of new nuclear power plants and the early deployment of advanced reactors, including small modular reactors worldwide while maintaining the highest levels of safety and security.

Europe must also rebuild know-how by fostering the next generation of nuclear scientists and expand research to catch up with the rest of the world. However, the budget for the EU’s key research body under EURATOM was slashed by 20% in 2021-2025.

“We have lost competencies with an aging population (in the nuclear workforce) and we must take care of the replacement of skills in the near future,” Bernard Magenhann, deputy director general of the EU’s joint research institute, told reporters this week.

“We are in a moment today where we have reduced activities… but we want to re-skill new talent. If we do not, as a research organisation in 10 years, we will be in a difficult situation. It’s a tricky period of time.”

(Reporting by Julia Payne; Editing by Alex Richardson)