1 Dec (NucNet): Appropriate incentives should be used to maintain the nuclear option as part of the European Union’s energy supply and immediate decisions need to be taken regarding the ageing of the EU’s reactor fleet, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in a review of EU energy policies released today.
In a wide-ranging report, ‘Energy Policies of IEA Countries: European Union – 2014,’ the agency also says the EU should improve cooperation on lifetime extensions and safety upgrades, work towards the creation of an EU-wide nuclear power plant design approval and certification process, and coordinate the disposal of all forms of radioactive waste, “including the possible creation of regional repositories”.
The IEA calls for a “level-playing field” for all low-carbon energy technologies, including nuclear, when assessing cases of state aid in energy investment projects. The report says the EU should ensure incentives to encourage new nuclear power plant investment, using the same market rules as for supporting other low-carbon technologies.
In October 2014, the European Commission approved an investment contract for the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK. But Austria immediately said it was preparing a lawsuit against the decision on the grounds that nuclear should not be eligible for state aid because it is not “sustainable”.
In the report the IEA urges the EU to improve cooperation among member states on lifetime extensions and safety upgrades. This would ensure community-wide safety standards and regulatory stability.
Upgrading and uprating existing nuclear plants appear to be one of the cheapest ways of producing carbon-free electricity in the European Union until 2030, the report says. Without long-term operation, nuclear capacity in the EU could fall by a factor of six by 2030, making it more difficult to achieve EU 2030 emissions targets.
The report recommends that decisions related to “ambitious” nuclear phase-outs such as those planned in Germany and Belgium should be coordinated in an EU-wide “generation adequacy assessment” because they can have important impacts on neighbouring countries.
The report says the EU faces “major challenges” linked to ageing plants in the coming decade. It says half of the EU’s 131 commercial nuclear power reactors in 14 member states have been operating for more than 29 years and as a result, decisions need to be made related to new plant construction, safety, upgrades and uprates, licence extensions, retirements and decommissioning, as well as spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management. EU policy is important to support these decisions, the report says.
The report also recommends that the EU works towards the creation of an EU-wide nuclear power plant design approval and certification process. This will promote fair competition between nuclear power technology options and vendors.
The EU should ensure coordination among member states for the disposal of all forms of radioactive waste, including the possible creation of regional repositories, the report says. “It is unlikely that having each country manage its own high-level radioactive waste is economically efficient, in particular for countries with small programmes”.
Adequate funding for decommissioning projects should be ensured and lessons learned in decommissioning and waste management shared.
The report recognises that nuclear energy is the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity and five of the six countries in the EU with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour have nuclear capacities of at least one-third.