Dr. Romana Jordan, poslanka 2000-2014, arhiv

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Nuclear Energy Development and New Build Prospects


A public speach of Romana Jordan (MEP) at REMOO workshop on Energy-Mix Options - and particularly on the part nuclear energy can play in the future. 

Workshop REMOO: Nuclear Energy Development and New Build Prospects

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak at this workshop on Energy-Mix Options - and particularly on the part nuclear energy can play in the future. 

As the world’s population increases and seeks higher living standards, people need more and more resources. This is particularly true in the fields of both primary and electric energy. When looking forward to see how this can be achieved, I believe it is also useful to look backwards so as to learn from the errors of the past. Economic development has always been accompanied by a greater usage of natural resources - but at what cost? The European industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries was built on the indiscriminate use of coal. Some say we got rich by polluting the atmosphere and now we try to tell others they cannot do the same. So these days, we cannot discuss energy without also discussing the environment, global diplomacy, economic development and  social welfare particularly of future generations. 

Well, as a politician, an environmentalist, an engineer and, not least, a mother - I do feel I have something to say on the subject - especially on the subject of nuclear energy which was my career before politics. 

Although this is very much a regional conference, I want to emphasise the very global dimension of both our task and the challenges we must face to meet that task. For example, whilst individual countries of the European Union have the right to define their own energy choices, I do not believe they have the moral right to impact in a negative way upon other Member States, other countries of the world and, indeed, the world itself in terms of indiscriminate depletion of natural resources and pollution of the planet.

This is why we politicians are expected to take visionary strategic decisions for the future developments regarding energy, not only to create an appropriate legislative environment but also to engage in global diplomacy which, hopefully stretches beyond our legislative boundaries. 

Using the carrot or stick analogy, whilst it may be OK to use a stick only on your own donkey, you can offer a carrot to anyone else’s!

When I consider my own possibilities with global diplomacy, I look first for common ground and then for European Union good practices to share globally. Easy words perhaps - but tough actions for sure. 

The common ground is sustainable development.  I do not believe there is any responsible argument against sustainability. By this I mean human development where resources are used to meet human needs while preserving the environment - so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.

In the EU we are working towards this through the implementation of the Climate-Energy Package. This means that the Member States have decided to accept provisions on limiting emissions, increasing the share of renewable energy sources (RES), improving energy efficiency and including the industry into the Emission Trading System - or ETS. The ETS is an alternative to a carbon tax aimed at encouraging investment in cleaner technologies rather than directly penalising the continuation of a polluting process.

For the longer-term vision, the European Commission has prepared calculations for different scenarios of the future development of the energy sector in the document entitled Energy Roadmap 2050. 

In that document the Commission is paying its utmost attention to the environmental component of sustainable development as it assumes that an international agreement on climate change will eventually be reached. Thus, even within the least ambitious scenario of the Energy Roadmap 2050, we see savings in primary energy demand by at least 32% and share of RES is above 50%. Consequently the share of conventional energy sources, both coal and nuclear, diminish substantially.  For coal to maintain its share, we look for success in the commercialisation of the technology of carbon capture and storage.  For the nuclear energy share, the European Commission's forecasts vary between 2.6% in primary energy by 2050 or as high as 17.5% which represents about 3% more than in current energy mix. But for nuclear energy, the most important factor remains public acceptance.

By these means, there is no doubt that Europe is walking the path of sustainable development and is setting a fine example to the rest of the world - but at what cost? Particularly as we climb out of economic recession, we must not allow our decarbonising efforts to threaten the security of supply and the competitiveness of our energy intensive and employment intensive industries that are exposed to global markets.  To have a strong global voice we must also have a strong industry and public support. Security and cost of energy strongly affect the wellbeing of our households as well as competitiveness of our economy. 

So the choice is a clear one:

We must seek global acceptance of our high ecological standards and reduce the gap between the EU and comparable economies.

There is an element of urgency here too as, for example, China is currently commissioning 1000MW of new coal fired plant every 5th day - with no CCS. Looking west from here, the USA has 5% of the world population but 20% of global emissions - and no carbon policy at all. But there is another side to the coin: Australia, California but also South Korea and China have now voiced their decisions to create a system similar to the ETS.

So this means that the European energy mix is dependent on many factors: 

Citizen awareness and acceptance, 
State of the economy, 
Development of new technologies 
Investments in the energy sector and the vision and wisdom of our policies, and not least
Global diplomacy leading to binding agreements.

And what role will nuclear energy play in this sustainable development?

Regarding the current World and European challenges, the future of nuclear energy should be bright as it doesn't cause harmful emissions, it diminishes and dissolves import dependency and is a mature, competitive, stable energy source whose base-load function cannot be replaced by renewables. The real problem is the type of public concern which follows in the case of an accident. This was demonstrated last year with the earthquake and tsunami causing the nuclear accident in Fukushima. Even though the cause could not be repeated on their territory, Germany and Switzerland decided to cancel the nuclear option and Italy prolonged the moratorium on use of nuclear power. 

One wonders what kind of tsunami could threaten Switzerland.

On the contrary, Finland continues the building of a fifth nuclear power unit with 2 more to follow. The United Kingdom, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary and others continue to develop their nuclear projects. Probably not all of them will be realised in the short term but they are arguably much needed in the EU to replace the retiring units and to guarantee large scale base-load and competitive energy as Germany, in particular, increases its share of fluctuating wind energy. Of course, for the development of nuclear by some Member States to impact positively on others, the completion and reinforcement of Europe’s transmission system is also an essential element. Everything is interlinked.

So, if nuclear is such an important, clean, competitive and possible solution, why does it not enjoy universal public support?

The incident in Fukushima not only shook the earth, it shook public confidence too. Then the media hype did much to increase the fear that comes from misunderstanding. After Fukushima, our own Energy Commissioner called it an ‘apocalypse’ even though the details were not known at that time. Such reactions from public figures actually prevents, in my view, what is needed - and that is an honest and open social dialogue on the energy choices and an identification of what needs to be improved for each. In the case of nuclear, I believe we do need common European safety standards and much greater harmony of regulatory controls. I have felt this for many years but now we can all see the positive evidence from the results of the stress tests conducted in the European NPPs. 
The industry reacted in a most positive and urgent way, the European Commission, through ENSREG, brought together the best practices of the national regulators and promoted real peer review of the results and the remedies. However, we should be aware that this has not been the creation of an EU wide nuclear regulator, rather an EU-coordinated self assessment of safety culture within the sector. 

Of course there will still be the political and media factions who will criticise these positive developments - but democracy has its price too!

I also believe that the Stress Test success would not have been possible without the first EU Nuclear Safety Directive adopted in 2008 after many years of talks and negotiations. Though the final document contained only few of the many proposals of the MEPs convinced that European nuclear safety can be guaranteed only by establishing harmonised safety standards, it was a beginning and even the longest journey begins with the first step. 

When the industry and its regulators pull together in the frame of this directive, differences in practices become obvious and the best practices can be shared. One example taken from the stress tests is in emergency preparedness. In 2 countries, there is less than 1 hour available to operators to restore the safety functions in case of loss of all electrical power. On the other hand, in 4 countries they have additional safety systems fully independent from the normal safety systems located in areas well protected against external events. 

This is an enormous difference which worries me both as MEP and as a nuclear engineer - and this is only one example.

Our citizens and neighbours deserve a nuclear safety level that is consistent, comparable, ever advancing and confidence-giving. We expect that the European Commission will keep its promise and prepare a proposal for the upgrade of the current directive on nuclear safety by March next year.

So, in conclusion, may I say the following regarding the nuclear option in our energy mix?

Sustainable, independent and affordable energy is an important element in our economic recovery and nuclear energy meets those criteria.
We cannot develop our energy resources in isolation. Every Member State, the EU itself, our neighbours and the global village each has an impact on the other - and on the planet. We must share our resources both now and in the future.
Public confidence will only come from an honest, open social dialogue which can otherwise be damaged by political dogma, media hype and indiscriminate comments from public figures.
For sensible and essential development of nuclear energy in the EU, we must build on the positive development of the stress tests to develop a set of all-encompassing safety standards and a harmonised approach to nuclear regulation - or we will continue to lack the public support to develop new nuclear plants. At the same time we must ensure that globally a proper implementation of international nuclear safety standards, developed in the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency is achieved.
For success in our global diplomacy towards encouraging binding international agreements to curb climate change, our policies must be pragmatic, economically viable and well explained. 

A strategy is not a list of wishes but a list of ambitious and realistic tasks.

Romana Jordan, MEP

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