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Nuclear Energy

DW Staff (ls)January 30, 2009

The EU's energy commissioner wants to promote nuclear energy despite negative public opinion, especially in the wake of the gas row that cut off supplies to Europe. France pushes ahead with plans for a new reactor.

Nuclear energy is essential, say some EU countries

On Friday, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that while public opinion limits the use of nuclear energy in the European bloc, he is determined to push it as far as possible.

"I am ready to go as far as we can go in the Union," he said at a conference in the Czech city of Ostrava. "I am personally supporting nuclear energy as an important part of the EU energy mix," he added during the conference on energy security in Europe.

Nuclear energy faces strong opposition in some EU countries, such as Austria. Germany is home to strong anti-nuclear sentiment, although that has been changing as concerns increase about a reliance on foreign energy suppliers and desire grows for cleaner forms of energy production.

France does not fall into the group of countries strongly opposed to nuclear energy. The country has 58 nuclear reactors, which provide approximately 80 percent of its electricity.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced late on Thursday, Jan. 28, that French energy supplier EDF will build the country's second next-generation EPR nuclear reactor at Penly, on the English Channel, according to the online edition of the daily Le Figaro. Construction is slated to begin in 2011.

Environmental activists march in Rennes, France, Saturday, March 17, 2007.
Greenpeace has called Sarkozy's decision "entirely illegitimate"Image: AP

The announcement was met with anger from the environmental group Greenpeace, which called the decision "entirely illegitimate and dangerous."

"This decision was taken without any public consultation, open bidding or analysis of energy needs. It has no justification other than to provide a massive contract to the state-owned nuclear industry, which has a poor safety and environmental record," said Jan Beranek, Greenpeace's international energy campaigner.

However, as Europe emerges from a gas crisis caused by a row between Ukraine and Russia that cut off supplies in the middle of winter, nuclear energy is being reconsidered by some.

Number of reactors set to increase

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, also underlined the value of nuclear energy.

"Do we want to have sustainable energy with low emissions?" he asked, adding that nuclear energy was the only way to achieve that goal.

A power plant in Krsko, Sloveia
Nuclear power plants from the 60s and 70s are shutting downImage: picture-alliance / dpa

France isn't the only country set to build an EPR reactor. Finland is also constructing a facility and China is slated to build two.

Nuclear power plants currently produce around a third of the EU's electricity and around 15 percent of its total energy, but that statistic is dwindling as plants built in the 1960s and 1970s come to the end of their lives.

France and Germany have developed an as yet untested third-generation pressurized water reactor, and EU Energy Commissioner Piebalgs announced that a nuclear energy forum to discuss new investments in the field would take place in Prague this spring.