European Parliament backs coal and nuclear power

A non-binding resolution passed by the European Parliament has underlined the need to keep nuclear and coal power options in Europe’s mix of energy resources.

At a meeting in Strasbourg, MEPs set out the parliament’s views on Europe’s energy future in response to a Green Paper published by the European Commission, on the security of energy supply within the European Union.

The parliament approved a raft of statements, one calling on all EU institutions to encourage the shift towards zero-carbon emission fuels, “notably electricity generation from nuclear energy, hydrogen for transport fuel from biomass, hydroelectric, solar and wind energy sources, by removing legislative obstacles and making them subject to a specific EU-wide exemption from all excise duties, energy taxes and climate levies”.

In its statement the Parliament said that growth in renewables, maintaining the present level of nuclear electricity production and building new clean coal power plants would all be essential to the security of Europe’s energy supply and reaching the Kyoto Agreement targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The resolution was based on a report by UK MEP Giles Chichester, on the Green Paper Towards a European strategy for the security of energy supply. In this he said it would be “perverse to deliberately deny ourselves such a major source of electricity as nuclear power”.

Foratom, the European nuclear energy association, called the vote “a victory for common sense and rational energy use”. “The parliament has clearly recognised that nuclear has an important role to play, now and in the future, in terms of security of energy supply and holding down greenhouse gas emissions,” the organisation added.

Amendments tabled by the Greens, which would have significantly reduced the contribution of nuclear energy, were rejected out of hand by the Parliament.

Energy consumption in the EU due to nuclear power contribution is 15%, compared to oil at 41%, gas at 22%, coal at 16%, and renewables at 6%. The EU depends on imported energy for 50% of its needs, up from 49% in 1998 – a figure that is projected to rise to 71% by 2030 if no actions are taken.

One key factor in the shift to approving nuclear energy is the EU’s dependence on Middle East countries for 41% of oil imports, the security of which, the resolution notes, depends largely on the foreign and military policy of the US. The document stresses: “Import dependency of oil from a small number of countries is associated with a serious risk of price instability in the short run and lack of resources in the long run.”

Only eight member states generate nuclear electricity and there are no firm plans to construct replacement capacity. Some member states – Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden – have a policy of phasing out nuclear power. The accord notes: “There would thus seem to be no political majority for future support for nuclear energy in the EU.”

The resolution concludes: “With demand rising faster in the world outside the EU, particularly in non-OECD countries, there will be increased competing demand from third countries for the energy needed by EU member states.” It adds that the EU must make efforts to ensure energy demand does not rise as forecast and that every available effort must be made to increase energy efficiency and energy saving, and to reduce dependence on imports.

The EU’s concern to retain the nuclear option can be seen in its statement that the Commission must “take the necessary measures to ensure that current human resource levels in the nuclear sector do not shrink to such an extent as to jeopardise the existence of the valuable wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of safety and security of operating reactors, decommissioning or waste management”.

The resolution also calls on the Commission to draw up an energy ladder indicating the order of preferred energy sources determined by CO2 emissions, other pollutants and environmental hazards and reaffirms strong support for renewables. It also urges that all forms of electricity production must internalise negative externalities – such as environmental costs – equally, without the discrimination that currently occurs and which favours some energy sources over others.

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