Just before this year’s COP27, policymakers and experts convened for the 15th European Nuclear Forum in Prague, jointly organised by the European Commission and the Czech Republic. The conference was an opportunity for the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as senior Commission officials, to emphasise their support for nuclear technologies in re-shaping the European energy landscape, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Fiala, highlighted that whilst Russia is, indeed, directly to be blamed for the existing crisis – “indirectly, we are to blame ourselves because we have underestimated our energy security for too long”. On that point, he highlighted the need to re-evaluate Europe’s energy policy, by firstly better considering the fundamental issues relating to energy security – the bloc nor its Member States “ought to be dependent on any third party in the future.”
Prime Minister Fiala emphasised that “European energy sovereignty must become our main objective – at the same time we must ensure our energy sources are as clean as possible”, underlining the need to shape policy that can ensure economic growth and stability, whilst reducing emissions and helping to achieve the EU’s climate objectives.”
On that note, the leader of the Czech government said that the “real challenge” is to reconcile the security, economic and social with the foreign and climate dimensions of the bloc’s common energy policy. Adding that decarbonisation of European industries will continue – “while at the same time we will not jeopardise economic growth and the development of cutting-edge technologies.”
The Prime Minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger, joined Mr Fiala in underlining that electricity usage and demand will continue to increase across Europe due to the acceleration of new industries like electromobility. In particular, Mr Heger noted that the electrification of production processes is key in decarbonising Slovakia’s industrial landscape, which will further increase the continent’s demand for electricity.
Both leaders were united in the view that nuclear energy is a vital element in responding to this demand and the broader objective of reaching sustainable “European energy sovereignty.”
“It is no surprise that the answer to all these conditions leads us to the need to make maximum use of renewable and nuclear energy,” added Mr Fiala. Emphasising the importance of the nuclear-renewables combination, the Czech PM argued that this “is the only safe scenario for us.”
In addition, Mr Fiala added that the Czech Republic is ready to become a leader in nuclear energy in the region, highlighting his country’s “long-term experience” and availability of “qualified experts”.
Commissioner Simson emphasises the contribution of nuclear energy
Joining the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Energy Commissioner of the EU, Kadri Simson, noted the importance of nuclear in the EU’s energy landscape. In particular, joining the Czech Prime Minister, Commissioner Simson touched on small nuclear reactors (SMRs): “Small Modular Reactors are an important solution to integrate our energy system and decarbonise the sectors that pose the biggest challenge.”
“Our aim is to have the first European SMRs to go live at the start of the next decade. Because of that, in Europe, demand for this new technology is on the rise. In a wide range of EU Member States there is interest in innovative solutions SMRs can offer”, the Energy Commissioner added.
Further, Ms Simson emphasised the contribution of nuclear in the EU’s economy.
“The nuclear energy industry and its related activities represent a high-tech industrial sector in the EU economy and a significant source of GDP, added value, employment, and exports,” she said. “But the future prospects of the nuclear sector and its contribution to decarbonisation objectives cannot be taken for granted”.
Linking the existing “nuclear energy ecosystem” with the EU’s climate and energy objectives, she added that “we need readiness of all the actors in the EU nuclear sector – utilities, designers, equipment manufacturers, regulatory authorities – to face the forthcoming challenges and opportunities and allow nuclear sector’s sustained and material contribution.”
In terms of future plans related to nuclear energy, the Commissioner reminded that “our priority is to ensure that nuclear energy is used only with the highest standards of safety. This is a constant for existing nuclear installations and technologies, and also for future ones”.
However, she noted that “we need to comprehensively assess the situation of the sector through different strands (legal, financial, technical and skills) needed for the development and operation of a safe and competitive nuclear energy industry”.