B Explanatory memorandum
1 The oil and financial crises have underlined the
importance of anticipating the major challenges facing our societies,
in particular that of energy supplies. This requires European governments
to take more effective action. Once the economy recovers and demand
for energy rises, nuclear energy seems to offer one of the possible
2 The budgets of the Council of Europe’s different member states
all include large items linked to various recovery and rescue plans
to deal with the effects of the crisis. More spending will go on
economic and social measures to deal with rising unemployment, the
downturn in industrial activity and growing inequalities, the first signs
of which can now be seen in Europe.
3 It is therefore crucial for governments concerned with their
countries’ energy supplies to undertake long-term financial investment
in a system that will guarantee independence and an economic return
in the energy field, while ensuring that these measures are fully
consistent with respect for the environment and sustainable development.
4 A well-controlled nuclear energy industry is now able to supply
all these economic guarantees, but without supplying all the requisite
guarantees in ecological terms.
2 The advantages of uranium
5 As with other types of energy, the choice of nuclear
power is bound up with the cost of its fuel source. As we have seen,
energy based on fossil fuels such as oil and gas is heavily dependent
on international prices, which surged in the third quarter of 2008.
In July of that year, the price of a barrel of oil was over US$140.
For some Council of Europe member states, this dependence has created
a form of economic and political dependence, as shown by the “gas
war” between Russia and Ukraine.
In this context, uranium, the required fuel for nuclear power
plants, has the advantage of being available in sufficient quantities.
According to some estimates,Note
reserves amount to 5.3 million tonnes, mainly located in Australia
(23%), Kazakhstan (16%), Canada (11%) and the United States (10%).
About 64 000 tonnes of uranium are consumed each year, meaning that
there are eighty-five years’ worth of supplies. According to experts
this figure can be multiplied by 100 with the advent of fourth generation
reactors that use uranium 235 as well as uranium 238.
7 Moreover, whereas there is a very marked link between rises
in the price of oil and the price of petrol, the cost of electricity
to the consumer bears little relationship to the price of uranium.
In economic terms, nuclear energy offers diversification and greater
security in so far as costs remain stable at a low level after the initial
investment and are less subject to short-term fluctuations in raw
material supplies. The uranium price represents barely 7% of the
price of a kWh, on account of the numerous chemical and physical
processes that the uranium passes through before its transformation
into electricity. However, uranium extraction techniques still cause
a great deal of pollution.
8 Finally, from the price standpoint, uranium as a raw material
appears to be used less than gas as an economic weapon, since numerous
producer countries, such as Niger and Namibia, do not have nuclear programmes.
Altogether, 70% of uranium production entering the international
market comes from countries without such programmes. International
co-operation ought to be organised in order to guarantee this freedom of
access to the uranium market.
9 This relatively secure market for uranium does not prevent
the major producers of fossil fuels from intervening in the nuclear
market to establish a strong, or even dominant, position. Via Rosatom,
the state nuclear energy corporation, the Russian Federation, which
in December 2008 invested €22 billion in its nuclear power programme
and which holds 8% of the world’s uranium resources, has established
a policy on the development and control of nuclear energy in Europe.
Thus, according to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Russian
uranium is used in German, British, Swiss, Dutch and Finnish nuclear
power stations. Rosatom holds 40% of the market for the enrichment
of natural uranium. One nuclear
power station in six in the world uses Russian fuel.
Against this background, in January 2007 the Committee on
Economic Affairs and Development noted that “long-term solutions
in the form of sustainable energy projects and coherent energy policies
should be sought to ensure ongoing and short-term energy security.
This presupposes the gradual emergence of a single energy market
in Europe based on sound regulation, efficient co-operation, sufficient
investment and solid networks”.Note
3 The cost of nuclear plants
11 Apart from fuel costs, the other major factor to
be taken into account when considering long-term energy investments
is the cost of nuclear plants.
12 Among the Council of Europe member states, Russia, Finland,
the United Kingdom, Albania, Croatia, Italy, Ukraine, Bulgaria and
France have decided to build new nuclear power stations. France,
76.9% of whose electricity is nuclear, faces major challenges. It
is planning to build a new European pressurised reactor (EPR) and
the market for nuclear plant is of fundamental economic importance
to it. France has the largest stock of nuclear power stations and
is also a major exporter of nuclear material, through its company
Areva. However, it faces increasingly stiff competition following
the recent memorandum of understanding between the Russian Rosatom
and its German counterpart, Siemens. At all events, these joint
ventures are evidence of certain countries’ commitment to long-term
investment in financially sound energy sources, at a time when energy requirements
are continuing to grow.
13 However, it is expensive to build new nuclear plant – about
€4 billion for an EPR, not to mention the construction time required,
estimated at five to seven years for each new power station, and
the various preparatory works which have very often increased the
financial burden. This is the challenge faced by Italy, which plans
to build four or five new reactors of 1 800 megawatts each in the
next five years. Several countries, particularly ones with an ageing
stock of nuclear plant, plan to invest in extending the life of
reactors by thirty to forty years, which would only cost €400 million,
in other words a tenth of the cost of new plant. For consumers,
this investment only represents €0.012 on the price of electricity,
compared with €0.028 for new plant.
Extending reactor life inevitably raises the fundamental question
of safety, which is absolutely critical for both human beings and
their natural environment. Mr Etherington’s reportNote
what a major contribution nuclear energy makes to sustainable development
because of its minimal production of greenhouse gases. Safety is
now universally recognised to be the primary concern and maximum
vigilance is required in, for example, the construction of the planned
joint Albanian and Croatian nuclear power plant on the banks of
Lake Shkoder in Albania. Investments in nuclear power stations will
have to include budgets specifically set aside for safety, to ensure
still greater reliability. The European Commission is currently
drawing up a directive on this major issue.
15 Finally, another major challenge facing nuclear energy is
how to manage nuclear waste. This has often been the subject of
criticism but has received particularly close attention from countries
that have decided to invest in nuclear energy. Clearly, there has
to be considerable financial investment in this area, which is so important
for both safety and sustainable development. Sufficient financial
resources are therefore required to cover the long-term costs of
nuclear waste management. It would be highly desirable for real
international discussions to be organised on the crucial issue of
4 Long-term investment
16 Apart from the benefits associated with uranium and
the cost of plant, nuclear energy also offers valuable economic
prospects in the form of long-term investment in nuclear research
17 Investing in nuclear research is not just concerned with energy
and electricity production. Very few persons are aware that such
research has beneficial applications in numerous areas that affect
citizens’ everyday lives, such as health, including medical equipment
using radioisotopes and cancer research, the social field and of
course the environment, through the reduction of greenhouse gas
effects. Naturally, strict control has to be exercised over nuclear
commerce, which could lead to the use of this technology in the
military field and culminate in the production of nuclear arms.
18 Certain universities in Belgium and Germany have established
nuclear research training courses. Finally, policies to finance
nuclear research in both the public and private sectors have been
adopted in Spain, Hungary, Germany and the United Kingdom, which
invested more than £10 million in this area in 2000. All these initiatives
offer the prospect of establishing solid expertise in this field.
19 Training in nuclear skills also represents a formidable economic
challenge. Most specialists agree that there is a shortage of nuclear
professionals and engineers. Their training is certainly expensive
but it represents above all an investment in experience and know-how
for the countries concerned. Certain countries that have become
uncompetitive in sectors of the economy where they cannot compete
with the extremely low labour costs of India and east Asia will
be able to export their skills in nuclear energy, whose economic importance
will grow in the coming years. For some countries, nuclear energy
also represents the economic exploitation of an internationally
recognised national savoir-faire. This
is the path taken by France, for example, where Areva builds the
EPR, which is competing strongly with its American and Japanese
20 In addition, the construction of nuclear power plants creates
thousands of jobs at a time when the economic crisis is causing
rising unemployment in most of the Council of Europe’s member states.
And as well as creating jobs, nuclear energy offers the prospect
of electricity at a stable price, which is essential for economic
growth, industrial prosperity and the jobs of those employed in
those same industries.
21 There is no ideal energy policy. All have their shortcomings,
in terms of their implications for the environment or sustainable
development or of the safety of their plant. Despite its undeniable
strengths, nuclear energy must continue to progress and improve,
especially where uranium mining and waste management are concerned.
22 Nevertheless, this form of energy does appear to be one of
the most efficient and economical energy sources in a Europe whose
electricity consumption will rise in the coming years. It also provides
a bridge with research and the development of our societies. But
this bridge must also take us towards the acquisition and development
of other sources of energy, even more respectful of the environment
and sustainable development, such as energy sources which are both
renewable and soft.
Reporting committee: Committee
on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs.
Committee seized for opinion: Committee
on Economic Affairs and Development.
Reference to committee: Reference
3333 of 16 April 2007.
Draft opinion approved
unanimously by the Committee on Economic Affairs and Development
on 19 June 2009.
Secretariat of the committee: Mr
Newman, Mr de Buyer, Mr Chahbazian and Mr Pfaadt.