We’re fast approaching the one year anniversary of the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, so now seems like a good time to take a closer look at the impact of that incident on the future of nuclear energy in Europe. On 7 March, Debating Europe and our partner think-tank, Friends of Europe, will be holding a live head-to-head debate between Dr. Hans Blix, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Jo Leinen MEP, Member and former Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on the Environment. Jo Leinen has been a prominent spokesperson in the past for the German anti-nuclear movement, whilst Hans Blix has argued that all energy sources (including nuclear) will be necessary to help prevent climate change.
Does nuclear energy have a future in Europe? We looked at this question last year, but this will be an opportunity to go into more detail and get some more of your questions answered. In the run-up to the debate, we spoke today to Ulrich Benterbusch, Director of the Global Energy Dialogue at the International Energy Agency (IEA), and asked him to respond to some of the comments you’ve already sent us on this topic.
Firstly, we had a comment from Nikolai, who argued that “any major gain from [greening Europe’s economy] comes in the form of EU energy security and reducing the reliance on others outside the bloc. As it is, Germany and Italy dumping nuclear will simply mean they buy nuclear produced energy from France or the Czech Republic instead.” What would you make of Nikolai’s analysis?
What I would like to point out is that, very recently, when it was very cold and we had one country (i.e. France) relying on nuclear for 80% of its energy production, they actually were forced to import energy from lots of countries, including Germany, to meet their needs. So the Germans had energy during the winter, because the sun was still shining and the wind was still blowing. It’s not black and white, it’s always grey. You can have circumstances where even a country relying on nuclear is not energy-independent.
The other thing I’d say is that, of course, a diverse energy mix is desirable. In the end, though, the political responsibility rests on every country individually. They have to decide which policies to adopt; there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” energy policy. What I wanted to demonstrate with the French example is that every country needs the help of others.
This is a controversial issue, with many people in Europe very concerned about the safety of nuclear energy after Fukushima. Most of the comments we’ve had, however, have been fairly supportive of nuclear (here, here and here, for example). Others (for example, Greenpeace) are much more critical. Who is right? Should nuclear still have a future in Europe?
What is important to note is that all the calculations and scenarios we have made show that – unless we have a substantial global nuclear share in the energy mix – it will be very difficult to meet the 2 degrees target in terms of climate change. If we would like to meet that target without nuclear energy, then we will have to meet it at a considerably higher cost. In that sense, we are happy to observe that, after Fukushima, almost all of those countries that have developed plans in the last decade to expand their nuclear programmes have not changed those plans.
What do YOU think? Do you think nuclear energy is safe, even after the Fukushima disaster? Or does a move away from nuclear mean adopting more polluting technologies, such as coal? Do you have any questions or comment for Dr. Hans Blix or Jo Leinen MEP? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll put your comments to both of our speakers live at the Friends of Europe event on 7 March.