Europe’s Return to Nuclear Power: Effective Utilization of Energy Source a Realistic Option

There is a growing trend in Europe of returning to nuclear power. Nuclear power is a viable energy source that can ensure both energy security and decarbonization. Japan should follow the European trend and promote the use of nuclear power.

The first meeting of the Nuclear Energy Summit, a European initiative to discuss international cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, has been held in Brussels with more than 30 countries participating, including Japan, the United States and European nations.

In conjunction with the summit, 12 European countries, including France, issued a leaders’ declaration praising nuclear power, saying, “We affirm that nuclear energy, alongside renewable energy, is a cost-competitive solution to meet the growing demand for fossil-free electricity.”

Since the 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, distrust of nuclear power has grown throughout Europe, and Germany closed the last of its nuclear power plants in 2023. However, the move away from nuclear power has remained limited and has not spread across the whole of Europe.

The renewed awareness of the importance of nuclear power as a realistic energy source is likely a natural development.

Europe has been dependent on Russia for energy sources such as natural gas. With Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, natural gas prices in Europe have soared, and every country has had difficulty procuring natural gas. The use of nuclear power is an effective way to end dependence on Russia in the energy sector.

Another major advantage of nuclear energy is that, like wind, solar and other renewable energies, nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide. As Europe is focusing its efforts on measures against global warming, the use of nuclear power is of great significance.

Belgium had once decided to abolish nuclear power plants. However, because there has been no prospect of securing alternative power sources, the country will extend the operation of its two reactors until 2035. Sweden has lifted restrictions on the number of nuclear reactors that can be in operation and will build about 10 new reactors by 2045.

Poland, which has never had a nuclear power plant, is promoting a public-private sector initiative to introduce nuclear power with the support of other countries, including the United States.

Japan shares Europe’s emphasis on countermeasures against global warming and energy security, but the resumption of operations at its nuclear reactors is not progressing smoothly. The only reactors currently in operation are located in western Japan, with none in eastern Japan.

The government is aiming for an early restart of TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, but the governor of Niigata Prefecture has not yet given his consent, and the plan is not progressing as expected. The government and TEPCO should do their best to gain the understanding of the local community as soon as possible.

In the long term, it will be essential to build new nuclear power reactors. The government must explain the necessity of nuclear power to the public. At the same time, it should be committed to the development of technology for highly safe next-generation nuclear power reactors and to fostering the human resources involved in nuclear power energy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 8, 2024)