It’s been three years since the meltdown at the nuclear power plant near Fukushima, Japan. The grim anniversary has reopened the debate about the future of nuclear energy, with the Greens in the European Parliament calling for a nuclear-free future.
Although the phrases ‘protecting the environment’ and ‘low carbon technologies’ are trotted out often in most of the party manifestos that have been published for the upcoming European elections, it’s only the Greens who have explicitly called for the entire phase-out of nuclear energy across the EU. Clean and sustainable energy, however, is a key priority for all parties, and most argue that abandoning nuclear completely would actually do more harm than good.
The manifestos of both the Greens and the Social Democrats call for new binding EU targets on carbon emissions, while the Liberal Democrats want to invest in a pan-European electricity grid. The Centre-Right manifesto, on the other hand, talks about balancing investment in low-carbon technologies with the needs of industry for low-cost energy (a position which might include, for example, exploring shale gas reserves). You can find out more about what each of the parties think by reading our summaries of each of their manifestos.
Through our ‘suggest a debate’ section on our website, we had a question sent in from Julian from the UK, asking simply:
Should EU member states give up nuclear power? If so, how could it be achieved and what would be the repercussions?
To give you a clearer idea of how the different political groups see the future of nuclear power, we put the same question to politicians from a couple of different political parties. First, we spoke to Jerzy Buzek, a Polish Centre-Right MEP and former President of the European Parliament (2009-2012). Does he think we should give up nuclear power?
Buzek believes that if we modernize old nuclear plants and solve the problem of nuclear waste, nuclear power is a great way to secure our energy needs while diminishing environmental damage. But what about the Social Democrats? Will they agree? We put the same question to Edit Herczog, a Hungarian MEP who sits with the Social Democrats in the European Parliament.
I have held the opinion for a long time – from before I entered into the European Parliament – that you need a broad mix of energy resources. I think if we can combine safer energy from all resources with lower CO2 emissions, then we have the chance to provide cheap energy to citizens who are suffering from high energy bills.
We wanted Herczog to give a clear answer about her position specifically on nuclear, so we also asked her to respond to a comment sent in by HT, who argued:
CO2 emissions are a much bigger problem than the tiny risk of a possible nuclear catastrophe. Nuclear energy should be used as long as renewable energy cannot provide us with 100% of our energy needs.
How would Herczog respond? Nuclear energy is a controversial issue in Hungary at the moment, with the Hungarian government going ahead with a multi-billion euro deal with Russia (despite the ongoing crisis in Crimea) to finance the expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant. Does Herczog agree with our commenter?
Absolutely. What we have to recognise is that renewable energy and sustainable energy are very efficient, but not sufficient on their own. Other sources simply are needed. It is not nuclear itself that is dangerous, it is the political decision-making process. In Hungary, for example, there is a high degree of competency within the nuclear sector but a low degree of responsible decision-making within the political class. For example, taking financial risks when deciding on how to finance nuclear power plants tends to happen at the expense of safety.
Finally, we asked Eamon Ryan about his expectations on the future of nuclear energy in the EU. Ryan is the leader of the Irish Green Party and the former Irish Minister for Energy (2007-2011). He is also currently running for the European elections as a candidate for the Greens. How important does he think nuclear power will be in securing Europe’s energy needs in the future?
Do you believe Europe should give up nuclear entirely? Or is investing in refurbishing old nuclear power plants to make them safer the best way to secure Europe’s energy needs? Let us know your questions and comments through the form below, and we will take them to policy makers for their reaction. And VOTE for the party you support in our Debating Europe Vote 2014!