Nuclear energy is a controversial topic in Europe. Many nations are turning to nuclear power to reduce dependence on oil and gas imports. Brussels is committed to further nuclear research, but EU members are divided.
Nuclear energy is currently used in 31 countries around the world. According to data from Germany's Federal Economics Ministry, a total of 444 nuclear energy plants produce have a gross output of 390,000 megawatts. Worldwide, nuclear power accounts for 17 percent of energy production, while this percentage inside the EU is 31 percent.
Following a referendum held over 20 years ago, Italy is the only G8 country which does not use nuclear power. But after an energy policy reversal under conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi, Italy will resume building nuclear energy plants, with foundations being laid for up to five 1,800 megawatt-capacity-plants by 2013.
The first country to use nuclear power on a large scale for civilian purposes was Great Britain. The first nuclear power plant went onto the grid there in 1956. There are currently 19 reactors in operation across Britain, which produce about 15 percent of the nation's energy. Due to rising oil prices and the effects of climate change, London has begun relying more heavily on nuclear power. New energy legislation should make it easier to build planned new reactors.
Germany is home to a strong anti-nuclear movement
With nuclear energy providing about 77 percent of its energy, France relies on nuclear reactors to a far greater extent than any other EU member. Since the oil crisis of 1973, numerous reactors have been built to turn the country into an energy autocrat. France currently operates 59 nuclear reactors, and a further reactor is under construction. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also a strong supporter of the export of French nuclear technology.
Some in Germany rethinking phase-out
In Germany, 17 reactors currently supply around a quarter of the nation's energy. In 2000, the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens committed to a nuclear phase-out agreement, under which no new reactors are allowed to be built. By 2021, all the country's reactors are to be taken off the grid. However, if successful in general elections in September of 2009, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union would reverse the phase-out. The party also wants to extend the lifetimes of "safe reactors," though the construction of new reactors is not yet up for debate.
Bulgaria may count on nuclear power to reduce its dependency on Russian energy
To become less dependent on Russian deliveries of gas and oil, eastern European countries are also increasingly turning to nuclear power. Bulgaria, which sources 95 percent of its energy from Russia, has decided to restart two dormant Soviet-era reactors in the Kosloduj nuclear power plant. The controversial reactors were shut down due to security concerns in 2007, prior to the country's entry into the EU, in order to comply with an EU directive.
The Czech Republic has also shown itself to be open towards nuclear energy. The Temelin nuclear power plant -- located around 100 km (62 miles) from the border with Germany and Austria -- is to be expanded from two to four reactors. Temelin, in its current form, is already a bone of contention in relations with nuclear-free Austria.
In Austria's view, the future ought to be defined by energy-saving measures, renewable energies, and more efficient use of conventional energy sources such as coal, oil and gas.
Author: Olja Melnik / Deanne Corbett
Editor: Sean Sinico