Today, EU nuclear energy stakeholders are meeting at the European Nuclear Energy Forum. The nuclear industry and certain EU countries call for more support and subsidies for nuclear power, particularly for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), in the name of reaching the EU’s climate goals.
Environmental NGOs join voices to contest this claim, arguing that investing in new nuclear power plants will delay decarbonisation and that SMRs fail to answer the industry’s problems. Governments should rather focus on cheap renewable energy, grids and storage.
At the European Nuclear Energy Forum, NGOs call on the EU and its member states to subsidise energy sources that can reliably and cheaply achieve our climate goals, not nuclear power. Rather, investing in new nuclear power plants may prove detrimental to EU climate goals:
Prolonged delays: The latest nuclear plants built in Europe have experienced delays of over a decade. We cannot risk such delays on our path to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Cost overruns: Nuclear power plants have faced huge cost overruns. The nuclear industry seeks to pass these high costs on to taxpayers and households via state and EU subsidies. The French nuclear industry has been nationalised.
Geostrategic interests: Nuclear energy is being pushed by powerful lobbies and geostrategic interests. Several EU states’ nuclear energy relies on the state-owned Russian nuclear firm Rosatom, importing uranium from unstable countries outside the EU.
Decentralised transition: To quickly decarbonise, we must choose cheap technologies, easy to deploy at scale, like solar panels and windmills. Nuclear power contradicts the vision of a decentralised energy system with citizen engagement.
Environmental impact: According to the IPCC report published in March 2023, nuclear power is one of the two least effective mitigation options (like Carbon Capture and storage). It’s an inefficient option that poses serious contamination risks during use and for future generations due to everlasting toxic waste.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) do not answer any of the industry’s fundamental problems:
Unproven technology: Even the simplest designs used today in submarines will not be available at scale until late next decade, if at all.
Waste and proliferation risks: SMR designs fail to address the persistent nuclear waste problem and pose new risks associated with the proliferation of nuclear materials.
Luke Haywood, from the European Environmental Bureau, said:
“It is highly unlikely that small modular reactors will change anything about the poor economics of investments in nuclear energy. Our focus should be on what we know works to rapidly reduce emissions: energy savings and renewables. Every euro invested in nuclear could help replace fossil fuels faster and cheaper if directed to renewables, grids and energy storage. This would also reduce air pollution, radioactive waste, and energy bills while allowing for more citizen participation.”
Marion Rivet, from Réseau Sortir du nucléaire, said:
“New nuclear power plant projects in France are estimated to cost around 52 billion euros. All this money should be invested in immediate and effective solutions for a real energy transition. The reduction of the greenhouse gas our countries produce has to be effective in the next 10 years and has to come from a source fully sustainable (meaning that does not create long-term wastes, that does not rely on uranium.”
Antoine Bonduelle, from Virage Energie, said:
“Small reactors are not an option for the Climate Crisis. At best, they cost double or more per kWh than other nuclear options, and even much more than efficiency or renewables, as shown extensively in the models and in the consensus of the recent AR6 IPCC report. Small reactors would produce more waste than classical reactors, and use more materials and fuels. Accidents are still possible and proliferation risks are much higher. In France, several proposed projects are shady arrangements aimed at using more public money or justifying unproductive research teams. In the end, it is a costly impasse, a loss of time and public money.”
Antoine Gatet, from France Nature Environnement, said:
“For France Nature Environnement, energy choices must be discussed democratically taking on board citizens in general and organized civil society in particular. Discussions must be based on transparent economic, social and environmental data. Discussions must include the whole lifecycle from mining to waste management. To this day, the nuclear renaissance has fallen flat every time, and the 100% renewables options are winning. When will we move to environmental democracy?”
European Environmental Bureau (EU), Foundation for Environment and Agriculture (Bulgaria), France Nature Environnement (France), Global Chance (France), Klimaticka Koalicia (Slovakia), Réseau Sortir du Nucléaire (France), Virage Énergie (France), NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark, Védegylet/Protect the Future (Hungary), Estonian Green Movement – Friends of the Earth Estonia, MKG – Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (Sweden), Milkas – The Swedish Environment Movement`s Nuclear Waste Secretariat (Sweden).