Is nuclear energy a real alternative for the generation of electricity in the European region?
Due to different reasons, and particularly after the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the debate about the future role of nuclear energy for electricity generation in the energy mix of several countries was reopened once again in the European region. There are several reasons for this. The first of these reasons is the high price of oil. The second reason is the need to reduce the CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. The third reason is the dependency of the EU and other European States to the import of fossil fuels.
During the consideration of the role that nuclear energy should have in the energy balance in the European States in the coming years, three main realities should be taken into account:
-The level of criticisms of the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation is rising again in several European States after the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Germany has shut down 8 of its 17 nuclear power reactors in operation in 2011. The UK shuts down 2units in 2012; other countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Sweden have plans to shut down all nuclear power reactors currently in operation or have cancelled the expansion of their nuclear programs or the introduction of this type of programs for the generation of electricity in the future.
-Economics comparison. Whether the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation is more economical or not than the use of other energy sources will depend on how cheap it is compared to other alternative energy sources;
-Is nuclear energy a secure energy source for the generation of electricity or it is very dangerous bearing in mind the Three Miles Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accidents? Does the world have in their hands now any other alternative energy sources that are more secure, can provide the level of electricity generation that the countries need when is needed, and it is clean and economic than nuclear energy? If the reply is yes, then they can be used immediately to generate the total energy electricity produced by the 436 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries in 2012, before the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant?
Currently, the European region (including Russia and Ukraine) generates around 31 % of its electricity from 195 nuclear power reactors currently in operation in 17 countries.
According to some expert’s opinion, it is a fact that nuclear energy is already making a substantial contribution to an energy policy that is low in carbon, cost-effective and that provides assured supply.
Today, a strong debate is happening among the oldest and most industrialized EU Member States, which do not want to slow down their economic growth and wish to overcome the current economic and social crisis that some of them are now facing.
This crisis is putting in danger not only the stability of several countries but also the common currency of 23 States (the euro). For this reason, a group of countries is thinking to continue using nuclear energy for the generation of electricity as a real alternative, even after the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. On the other hand, others countries are taking measures to slow down the expansion of their current nuclear power programs or will shut down some or all of their nuclear power reactors in the coming years. The problem that the world is now facing is how to meet the foreseeable increase in the demand of energy using all available energy sources in the most efficient and economic manner and without increasing the emission of CO2 to the atmosphere.
Undoubtedly, one of the available types of energy sources that have proved in the past that can be effectively used for the generation of electricity is nuclear energy. The International Energy Outlook for 2011 (IEO 2011) indicated that electricity generation from nuclear power worldwide is expected to increase from 2.6 trillion kWh in 2008 to 4.9 trillion kWh in 2035, an increase of 88 %. However, there is a great concern about building new nuclear capacity due to construction costs, energy security and greenhouse gas emissions in several regions of the world.