June 24, 2011
The dangers arising out of the nuclear fallout of Japan’s Fukushima plant are unlikely to affect Europe. However, Japan’s destiny has made a strong contribution to the public mistrust in nuclear technology and triggered unconventional political re-thinking within the European Union and its member states. Currently, nuclear power plants generate one seventh of Europe’s electricity. Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, EU officials raised the prospect of a nuclear-free future – and consequently a stronger promotion and development of renewable energy.
As a first reaction to the nuclear accident in Japan, the European Commission has introduced stress tests for the member states’ nuclear plants: From June 2011 onwards, all 143 nuclear power plants in the EU will be re-assessed in comprehensive tests embracing both natural and man-made hazards.
On June 22, 2011 the EU Commission introduced the new Energy Efficiency Plan and thereby proposed a range of energy efficiency measures to achieve further energy savings. These measures will have to be implemented throughout all economic sectors and include the introduction of a new directive obliging all Member States to establish energy saving schemes.
The European Commission has been considering renewable sources of energy as essential alternatives to fossil fuels. Therefore the development of wind power, solar power (thermal, photovoltaic and concentrated), hydro-electric power, tidal power, geothermal energy and biomass has been promoted for a longer time. One important measure is the Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources: Hereby, the leaders of the European Union agreed on legally binding national targets for increasing the share of renewable energy and on achieving a 20 % share for the entire European Union by 2020. In order to implement Article 4 of the Directive 2009/28/EC, all of the Member States submitted national renewable energy action plans in 2010 (link to http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/transparency_platform/action_plan_en.htm).
The growing importance of renewable energies for the EU will certainly be intensified due to the occurrences in Japan. The single governments of the EU member states, however, differ strongly in their reactions. In France, nuclear generation accounts for more than three-quarters of the country’s electric power generation, which is the highest share in the world. Yet, the French government does not intend bigger changes due to the events in Fukushima. The United Kingdom wants to draw lessons with regard to the safety of its nuclear plants, but is not intending to completely replace nuclear energy by alternative sources either. The government’s Energy National Policy Statements (NPS) of June 23, 2011, set out the need for a surge of investment in new energy sources, including 33 GW of new renewable energy capacity. At the same time, however, the NPS lists eight sites across the UK as suitable for new nuclear power stations to be built by 2025. In Spain and Portugal there are stronger calls for the gradual phase-out of nuclear energy and its replacement by green energy.
The strongest turnaround is probably happening in Germany. Not long ago in fall of 2010, the country’s federal government decided to extend the useful operation of its nuclear plants by 12 years and keep the last plants online until the mid-2030s. As a quick reaction to the nuclear accident in Japan, however, the government reversed this extension and is currently planning to phase out the last of the country’s 17 nuclear plants by 2022. At the same time, the German government intends to accelerate the development of renewable energies. The plan is to forcefully intensify the promotion of electricity generated from wind, water and sun and increase public funding for off-shore wind parks. According to its National Action Plan, the German federal government estimates the share of renewable energies in gross final energy consumption to be 19.6 % in 2020. In order to achieve this goal, the share of renewable energies in the electricity sector needs to amount to 38.6 % and the share in the heating/cooling sector to 15.5 %.
Several private companies, especially in Germany, praise the proposed nuclear phase-out and the promotion of renewable energy. They are anticipating the creation of thousands of new jobs and the beginning of a small economic miracle.
Website of the European Commission on renewable energy with further links: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm
Tags: Renewable Energy