Prospects for nuclear energy in the enlarged EU
Evropského parlamentu Dr. Gordona Adama na zasedání
European Nuclear Council 10.5.2004 v Helsinkách.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.
May I begin by thanking you for the invitation to take
part in this Council meeting and for the opportunity to
address you this evening.
For the past 25 years I have been an active member of the
European Parliament on energy issues. I am regarded by
some colleagues as a nuclear fanatic. It is true that I
support nuclear power, but I much prefer to consider
myself as an energy fanatic. My view is that the world’s
energy needs cannot be met by limiting the range of
sources. As time passes and demand increases, the
contribution of nuclear, oil, gas, coal, hydro and
renewables will all continue to be needed, with fusion
and hydrogen on the horizon.
Let me remind you in broad outline of the World Energy
Outlook 2002 published by the International Energy Agency.
Over the next 30 years the world population will increase
from 6 billion to just over 8 billion. Global primary
energy demand will grow by 60 to 70%, and 90% of this
increase will come from fossil fuels. Gas consumption
will double, with new power stations taking up 60% of the
increase. This scenario indicates an increase in carbon
dioxide emissions of 60%, of which 75% will come from
power generation and transport. The decline in nuclear
power generation is another factor.
There are an estimated 1.6 billion people who do not have
access to electricity. That figure will fall to 1.4
billion. Traditional biomass – wood, agricultural
residues and dung – is the fuel used for cooking and
heating by 2.4 billion people in developing countries.
This figure increases to 2.6 billion.
That is the background against which we have to examine
the prospects for nuclear energy.
The Environmental Dimension
Do you remember where you were on 26th April 1986? You
will readily recognise the date. It was the day of the
nuclear incident at Chernobyl. An event which has had a
remarkable effect on the energy industry. I remember
where I was. I was here in Helsinki. For the record, I
was taking part as the Vice-Chairman in the European
Parliament/EFTA Parliamentary Committee, in the days
before Finland and Sweden had joined the European Union.
I cannot recall anything about our deliberations on that
occasion, but I do recall our reaction to the news of the
disaster. We passed a resolution. But neither do I recall
what the resolution said.
When the history of our times is written, it may be, I
emphasise the ‘may’, that that single catastrophe,
and its impact on public opinion, may go down as the
moment when environmental concerns turned from scientific
analysis to political emotion. To put this another way,
it may be seen as the moment when public opinion decided
that risk was no longer acceptable and sought a ‘risk
free’ society. This is an unattainable "holy grail".
It is anti-science.
Barely two years earlier, in the 1984 elections, the
first Green members were elected to the European
Parliament. Though few in number, they made a big
political impact, backed as they were by the whole
apparatus of Greenpeace International. This is an
organisation of huge resources which can be focussed on a
political issue, rather like the way mirrors can be used
to focus the sun’s rays and cause destruction.
At each successive European parliament election the
number of Green members has increased. So too has the
number of fellow travellers which they have attracted
from other political groups, especially on nuclear issues.
In the 1984 parliament the anti-nuclear forces could be
easily outvoted, but as time has passed the nuclear
majority has diminished to the level of uncertainty. On a
nuclear issue it is no longer possible to be certain of a
positive vote in the Parliament.
The anti-nuclear forces are similarly stronger in
national governments. Every red/green coalition
government in Europe has a Green Environment Minister.
The Green influences are stronger in national
administrations, in what we would call in Britain the
civil service. The Green influences in the European
Commission are immeasurably stronger.
Some of this influence, which is based on science, is to
be welcomed. But much of it is based not on science but
on a perverse idea of the relationship between mankind
and the world we inhabit.
Let me try to spell this out.
As human beings we are totally dependent on the earth’s
resources. Everything we eat, everything we make,
everything we have comes out of the earth. We have built
our civilisation, our standard of living out of the earth.
We exploit nature. We exploit nature because we have the
brainpower to understand how the natural world works and
how we can use it to our advantage. We do not live by
"preserving the earth". We do not live by
"saving the planet". We exploit the planet, and
the more intelligently we are able to exploit the planet,
the higher our standard of living. This is true whether
we are thinking nuclear, or oil, or gas, or coal, or
hydro, or renewables.
It is my judgement that the politics of the European
Union are ever more firmly in the grip of what I call
environmental terrorism. A small, tightly-knit, highly
organised, unrepresentative and undemocratic organisation
has hijacked the agenda, deliberately misusing science
and the mass media to spread unwarranted fear and alarm,
in order to achieve their own political goals.
The Challenge Facing the Nuclear Industry
The nuclear industry still suffers from its military
genesis. And from the political secrecy that the
political system with notions of national security
imposed on it. Its ability to contribute to electricity
production was oversold and the issue of handling spent
fuel and nuclear waste not sufficiently understood at the
beginning. Strategic political issues allowed such
matters to be pushed to one side.
The Euratom Treaty is key to the control of nuclear
weapons grade material, along with the role of the
International Atomic Energy Agency. It did and does have
two weaknesses which have become more apparent with time.
The first is the over-optimistic assessment of the
contribution of nuclear power, and the second is the
legislative protection it gives to governments in terms
of control of their own nuclear plant. Operational safety
and the management of nuclear material is, as a result,
less subject to European legislation than other
industries. A matter which the European Commission has
focussed on in recent proposals and which has also given
a political lever for the Greens to exploit. Only last
week in the final debate of the current European
Parliament there was a call from the Greens for the
Euratom Treaty to be included in the draft Constitutional
Treaty. The issue of legislation is complicated by the
fact that both sides of the nuclear debate favour
legislation, but with different motives. Proposals to
ring fence de-commissioning funds come from those who
seek to impose greater financial burdens on the industry.
The pressure to reduce emissions of technetium 99 from
Sellafield is an instance where it is doubtful if any
real medical or environmental benefit will be obtained.
But there will be an additional cost.
The development of the internal market in electricity in
the name of competition and lower electricity prices has
given rise to a serious question mark about the ability
of nuclear power to compete with other forms of
electricity production. Add to that the moves towards
privatisation and the targets to promote the contribution
from renewable energy and you have a situation where the
electricity playing field is skewed to the point of
dizziness, rather than being the level playing field that
it supposedly is. The electricity market is skewed
against production systems with high capital costs
requiring long-term contracts. All this, together with
the issues of operational safety which I mentioned
earlier, make for an uncertain nuclear future.
The most perverse of all these factors is the refusal to
accept the contribution that nuclear power can make to
the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Unless you
believe that the current nuclear output AND the
additional electricity requirements for the next 30
years, unless you believe these can be met by renewables
and improved energy efficiency then it is crystal clear
that carbon dioxide emissions will increase over that
It is doubly perverse since it is now accepted that
increasing the contribution of renewables will result in
an increase in electricity costs, yet higher cost is one
of the charges frequently levelled against nuclear.
Perhaps most perverse of all is the notion that
electricity consumption can be decoupled from economic
development or GDP. It is true that energy intensity is
being reduced, but if you listen to some of the political
rhetoric that I have heard in recent years you would
imagine that GDP can be increased and electricity
consumption reduced at the same time. I do not believe it.
Responding to the Challenge
Part of the response can be to point out that there are
obviously beneficial applications for nuclear energy,
medical being the most obvious.
One could also mention such uses as making the plastic
coating stick to Teflon pans, or to improve crop yields
and tackling other problems linked to hunger.
More specifically, there are three broad ways in which
the nuclear industry should respond to the challenge. One
technical, one political and one a mixture of the two.
The technical matters relate to the whole area of design
and operation of nuclear plant and the treatment and
disposal of nuclear material. A key feature is clearly
the matter of cost, which relates to the design and speed
The technical co-operation of all the nuclear expertise
in the EU would seem to me to offer a better prospect
than the different companies competing for a currently
limited market. To my knowledge the location of further
new build in Europe will come in the accession countries,
with Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria the most likely
possibilities. Last week Ukraine announced an intention
to complete reactor 3 at Khmelnitsky. There is also a
campaign to build a replacement reactor at Chapelcross in
Here my concept would be the nuclear equivalent of the
European Airbus, perhaps the prototype could be the
European Pressurised Water Reactor that TVO have selected
for its Olkiluoto 3 plant. There will also be an
opportunity in the Generation IV consortium to advance
such an idea.
There is a need for the industry to be seen to bring
together the improved safety performance and plant
productivity, which have been such a strong
characteristic of the industry’s achievements over the
past 10 years. Availability has increased from 71% to 84%,
equivalent to new reactors with a total output of 34
The technical/political response comes in the battle to
restore public confidence in the safety of the industry.
The shadow of Chernobyl cannot be erased, but it can be
lightened. The basis for this lies in the International
Atomic Energy Agency and the body of nuclear regulators,
currently WENRA and CONCERT. The standards that are
applied to ensure safety have to operate on a global
basis and be seen to be enforced. There is little sense
in establishing publicly acceptable standards in the
European Union while ignoring what is happening in
Russia, where 15 RBMK reactors are still operating,
Ukraine or elsewhere in the world. It means that the
industry and national governments should accept the need
for European legislation and the addition of
international supervision or peer review. I believe that
for practical purposes this is already in place, but it
is not in place in public perception and that has to be
Most important in relation to safety is the challenge to
put in place international actions to deal with the
management of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste.
I see this as the absolute key to success for nuclear
power in the future. There is not all that much of it. It
is relatively easy to contain the radioactivity.
Perversely, the Greens try hard, certainly in the
European Parliament, to frustrate any potential
breakthrough. They do not want a solution, because a
solution would undermine what they see as their main
weapon. Every effort must be made to speed up the
building of geological repositories. I particularly like
the recent proposal of the Director General of the IAEA,
Dr. El Baradei, that the production of new fuels, the
processing of weapons grade material and the disposal of
radioactive waste should be brought under multinational
control, possibly in a limited number of regional centres.
Anti-nuclear campaigners have had this field to
themselves for too long.
The third area is wholly political. The nuclear industry
is not alone. It is not the only industry which is under
the Greenpeace microscope. Coal, gas, oil, chemicals,
biotechnology, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides,
genetically modified plants and food products, animal
husbandry, fishing. There is hardly an industrial
activity that escapes.
Industry as whole has to unite against these attacks. The
big danger is that Greenpeace does not attack industry as
a whole. Individual sectors are taken on separately and
it is easy for those not under scrutiny to relax.
The main battleground is in the European Parliament, and
for the nuclear industry it must be the focus of a
sustained activity. Do not be under any illusion. Every
report that goes through the Parliament is scrutinised to
see if there is an opportunity for the expression of anti-nuclear
opinion. If approved, these comments can and often are
endlessly quote as the opinion of the European Parliament.
It is easy for Greenpeace with their huge resources –
it is difficult for members and the industry to monitor.
That is why the activities of Foratom are so important
and the formation of the Nuclear All Party Group –
which owes much to the support of members from the
accession countries – will bring a new dimension to
political activity after the forthcoming elections. A
similar group is also operating at Westminster in
Britain, with the support of the Nuclear Industry
Association (previously the British Nuclear Forum). There
is a case to encourage similar groups in all countries
with nuclear installations and for their efforts to be co-ordinated
by Foratom. The battleground has been identified.
A Nuclear Climate Change
You will have understood that I am not one of those who
believe that our future electricity requirements and the
replacement of current nuclear capacity can be met by
increased energy efficiency and renewable energy sources,
Energy efficiency always makes sense both in economic and
environmental terms. But it is not an energy source: it
can work the other way. Energy efficiency reduces the
cost of energy and thereby releases resources which can
be used for more production, say, or more heat in the
home, with consequent consumption increase.
There is no sign that our use of electrical appliances is
going to reduce. We could use our cars less and make more
use of bicycles, or even walk. We could take fewer
flights, heat our homes less. More people could live in
the same house. It would even help if we did not live so
long. I cannot see any of this happening.
Renewables will have an important role. I do not doubt
that. But they do have limitations. I would not choose to
have an operation in a hospital run only on wind power.
It is a feature, especially when renewable sources are
intermittent and uncontrollable, that a grid connection
is also installed.
The cost of back-up supply has been taken into account in
a recent report by the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering,
which gives a much more favourable assessment of nuclear
I am particularly pleased to be in Helsinki for this
Council meeting. I hope that it might mark a moment when
the anti-nuclear tide begins to turn. The developments in
the nuclear industry in Finland are the most exciting
happening in the nuclear industry in Europe at the
present time. There has been real leadership, a
willingness to address difficult questions and an ability
to engage effectively with public opinion.
I do not know if carbon dioxide is responsible for
I do not know if we are able to control the climate. I do
know that without nuclear power any hope of reducing
carbon dioxide emissions is an illusion.
I do know that we need a change in the nuclear climate
and I wish every success to our Finnish colleagues and to
the whole European nuclear industry in the efforts being
made to achieve this.
Thank you for listening.
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