EU wants to replace Russian gas with nuclear power plants

EU wants to replace Russian gas with nuclear power plants

Igor Gashkov

Calls to stop buying Russian oil and gas come from the United States and Britain, but are divisive in continental Europe. This is understandable, because the task is harder than it seems: countries in the region that want to do without domestic resources need to simultaneously provide themselves with energy and maintain high environmental standards. This means not increasing the consumption of coal and not using potentially dangerous nuclear energy. Or, angry at Russia, will they still try?
Sanctions or a “green” future?
The question of the de-velopment of nuclear energy as an alternative to oil and gas is being discussed on the sidelines of the European authorities in disputes between “green” and pragmatists. From the end of the 20th century and al-most to the present day, the initiative was on the side of the former. In 1997, France opened its last nuclear po-wer plant to date. In 2002, Germany adopted a plan to phase out nuclear power. And in 2011, after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, this program was thoroughly finalized and at the same time 2022 was chosen as the transition point. By this time, it was decided to close all nuclear power plants operating in Germany.
In an effort to never again deal with a nuclear power plant, Germany was supported by a coalition of four EU countries – Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Portugal. In 2021, they signed a joint appeal with Germany calling for the prevention of the revival of nuclear energy, which they called “incompatible with the principle of” do no harm “. Before that, Austria passed a law that banned the use of nuclear energy for any purpose, including the production of electricity. This position Vienna Minister for Climate, Environment and Energy Leonore Gewessler used the podium of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 to denounce those who are looking to replace oil and gas in nuclear energy: “Multiple evidence confirms the dangers of nuclear energy.” It seemed
Just before the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, coalitions of militant supporters and opponents of the nuclear power plant formed in Europe. The states of Eastern Europe were in favor, counting on the rehabilitation of their coal-fired power plants, and France, which has the most power plants in the EU. Against – the most sensitive to the environmental agenda in Europe, the German-speaking countries. The outcome of the collision has not had time to decide. Although the European Commission took the side of nuclear power plants in February, assigning the status of “green” nuclear energy, the European Parliament had to make the final decision. He did not have time to do this: Ukraine diverted all attention to itself.
Europe is concerned
The beginning of the Russian special operation in Ukraine forced European politicians to choose between environmental principles and the desire to limit our country. It turned out that for many it is permissible to sacrifice the first for the sake of the second. Robert Habeck, Germany’s Minister for the Economy and Climate, announced in an unexpected turn that he had no objection in principle to nuclear power. The German press began to discuss the refusal to close the last stations. But it soon turned out that this was not an easy decision: the shutdown process had gone too far, and therefore, the liquidated stations in Germany would not help in any case in the coming winter. Moreover, there are few of them. The construction of new ones will require at least 10-15 years.
Another problem is waste, the disposal of which, given the compact size of Western European states, is difficult. Resonant is the case of Sweden, which, having opened a nuclear power plant in Forsmark, stores radioactive waste in a container embedded in a rock. The distance from it to the capital of Stockholm is only 100 kilometers. The threat is not only this: the reliability of waste isolation does not stand the test of suspicion of environmentalists. On their side, the former Minister of the Environment, Per Bolund, called the method used – storage in copper capsules – extremely dangerous.
Fear of nuclear power is fueled not only by the theoretical possibility of interruptions, but also by the fact that in the conditions of the European Union they do occur from time to time. France has developed a scale for assessing the severity of incidents from 1 to 7. In recent months, there have been breakdowns estimated at one. The crash that happened last September was a 2, and the last one in 1980 was a 4. Nevertheless, the number of operational disruptions may increase over time due to the fact that the nuclear power plant fleet has not been updated for a long time. The temporarily prevailing course towards the rejection of nuclear energy forced the Europeans to consider the stations as outgoing nature. Today, cracks are found in their buildings, which is why the facilities are closed for additional repairs. And the deadlines are approaching: although the operation of nuclear power plants in the EU does not have a legally established upper limit, in the USA it is – 60 years, which is taken into account by all experts. This means that the operating life of some nuclear power plants may come to an end in the foreseeable future.
nuclear project
The politically motivated revision of attitudes towards nuclear power plants in Europe is advocated by French President Emmanuel Macron. In November 2021, he announced : “We are going to restart the construction of nuclear reactors for the first time in decades […] to guarantee France’s energy independence, provide our country with electricity and achieve our other goals, in particular carbon neutrality by 2050.” And on February 10, preparing to enter the presidential campaign, the politician added : “What we should do now is the resto-ration of French nuclear energy, because this is an excellent moment, because our people need it, because all the conditions have come together for this.”
While championing a still under-popular approach, Macron is forced to rein in both the classical left and the left-liberal Greens. The sharpness of the dispute is emphasized by the fact that one has to choose between two priorities. The first is to limit relations with Russia in order to put pressure on it, and the second is to fight for a safe, green sustainable society, without risks and hazardous waste. Matching values is getting harder.
The fact that the question is posed in this way – either the preservation of the current model of cooperation with Russia, or the difficulties in building a “green” world – is confirmed by the emergence of unexpected allies for Macron. These are the countries of Eastern Europe led by Poland. The environmental agenda in Germany does not enjoy support among them, as it implies a quick abandonment of coal, one of the pillars of the local economy. Macron’s desire to revive nuclear energy in Warsaw is understood as an opportunity to save its own power plants, but not nuclear, but coal ones. Increasing these expectations takes the difficulty to a new level.
Descent into the coal mine
Unlike nuclear power plants, coal-fired power plants have by no means been stopped even in Germany. According to the plans of the government, the termination of their work is scheduled for 2030-2038. It is most realistic to increase the volume of energy generation at them, especially since this is called for not only in the east of Europe, but also in the south – in Italy and Spain. However, the price for such a decision would be a revision of the entire “green” agenda. It is generally accepted that, in terms of environmental impact, coal is not comparable to gas imported from Russia: associated CO2 emissionsdiffer by 2 times. At the UN climate summit in November 2021 in Glasgow, it was the decisions on coal – phasing it out and limiting investment in mining – that became one of the rare breakthroughs. Curtailment of economic relations with Russia, if in Europe they go for it, will lead to a revision of all decisions made earlier.
The environmentally minded European has something to be afraid of: coal-fired power plants emit 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually, contributing to the formation of the greenhouse effect, and because of this, to increased global warming. This is one-fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is precisely the one that was expected to be reduced in the first place. According to UN Secretary General António Guterres, the countries of the OECD group – the developed countries of the West – could stop producing electricity from coal by 2030, and all the rest by 2040. Keeping this hope alive could deter the West from imposing energy sanctions on Russia.

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