European Union’s energy policy recognizes value of nuclear power

This could be a sign that a path has been clarified for Europe to return to nuclear power. Japan should refer to the move as an effective means of both maintaining a stable supply of electricity and achieving decarbonization.

The European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, has recognized nuclear power generation as an economic activity that can help combat climate change. By giving the seal of approval to nuclear activities, it is said that the EU will aim to make it easier to attract private-sector investment in nuclear-related projects.

It is significant that the EU has reaffirmed the usefulness of nuclear power and labeled it an energy source that contributes to decarbonization.

In Europe, the construction of new nuclear power reactors stagnated following the 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but in recent years, an increasing number of countries have shifted to a positive stance on the matter. France and Eastern European countries, which have been promoting the construction and active use of nuclear power reactors, supported the latest decision.

The use of wind power and other renewable energy sources, which the EU regards as a key step toward achieving decarbonization, is unstable due to such electric power generation being weather sensitive, thereby causing problems such as increasing utility rates.

It is impossible to promote the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources all at once. A realistic policy would be to use nuclear power that can stably supply electricity without emitting carbon dioxide.

The role of nuclear power is also important from an energy security perspective. The fact that the EU depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas imports poses a weakness in its relations with Russia. Tensions over Ukraine once again underscore the danger of the situation.

The United States has warned Russia it will impose stiff economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. If Moscow is slapped with sanctions, it is likely to cut off its gas supplies in retaliation. To what extent are European countries able to line up with the United States?

Germany’s response is particularly concerning. Despite opposition from the United States and Eastern European countries, Germany, which has a policy of phasing out nuclear energy, has built a new gas pipeline that links to Russia, deepening its dependence on Moscow.

It must be said that, despite being a major EU nation, Germany has failed to pay enough attention to how its energy policy affects the security of Europe as a whole.

Germany must have a balanced policy on stable electricity supply, environmental friendliness and security. It is hoped that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will deepen cooperation with U.S. President Joe Biden during his upcoming visit to the United States.

The EU as a whole must increase its energy procurement from the Middle East and the United States, among other countries, to pursue a break from its dependence on Russia.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 7, 2022.