The past year, marked by a global pandemic, reinforced the awareness of the impact of climate change and the growing need for the production of low carbon energy.Many countries around the world are taking a fresh look at nuclear power. An important cause of what has come to be called the global nuclear renaissance is the prospect of severe disruptions to the earth’s climate brought about by continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels. Hence, European countries in dire need for a long-term and reliable source of energy to help reach ambitious goals are turning to an answer that caused earlier generations to shudder: nuclear power. New innovations in nuclear technology are making nuclear energy safer and more affordable, and countries around the world are starting to adopt nuclear power.
Nuclear power is the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity in the world today, with 449 reactors generating enough power to meet 10 percent of the world’s total electricity needs. European power prices have touched new highs: baseload week-ahead prices have risen above €200 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in a number of European countries which is about four times the average level. That increase has been prompted largely by a surge in natural-gas and carbon prices, which currently exceeds €100 per MWh and €60 per metric ton, respectively. This development has affected the cost of power produced by natural-gas power plants, which broadly set prices in European markets.However, nuclear energy is entering a critical period of development – one which will determine the shape of the sector in Europe over the next several decades.
Europe is one of the most active and dynamic markets for nuclear energy in the world today. It is home to 133 operational reactors, which provide approximately 28 percent of the continent’s electricity, and offers commercial opportunities across the whole nuclear lifecycle. Spain recently joined these countries by announcing in February 2019 that it would close all seven of its operational nuclear plants by 2035 as part of their plans to generate all the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Sweden is home to recognised nuclear organisations with D&D experience, such as Studsvik, and also a growing cluster of multi-national companies setting up subsidiaries or forming partnerships to take advantage of decommissioning activities in the country. Challenges exist in the Swedish sector with regard to optimising logistics across the various sites and managing supply and demand of skills, equipment and technologies, dealing with the larger nuclear components within the nuclear island and waste management. However, the parallel, multi-site decommissioning programs of Germany and Sweden may present problems pertaining to capacity and lessons learned can be transferred into future projects, resulting in economies of scale and significant efficiencies thatcan decrease the likelihood of delays inschedules and resulting cost overruns.
Moreover, France, the EU’s largest generator of nuclear power with 58 reactors, has pledged to reducing the share of nuclear power in the country’s domestic electricity mix from 75 percent to 50 percent citing an overreliance on technology and a broader shift towards renewable generation. A total of 14 reactors will close by 2035 under the country’s long-term energy strategy, which will also see all coal-fired generation cease by 2022.Europe is set to become the world’s largest market for nuclear decommissioning over the coming years, with the sector estimated to be worth €60bn by 2025.