Europe's energy providers should be making massive investments in the new construction of nuclear power plants, according to a European Commission report on the region's energy supply.
This will require sums of €450 billion to €500 billion ($500 billion to $554 billion), by 2050, it says.
The report, a draft of which has been seen by Handelsblatt ahead of its publication in the coming weeks, is the first review of Europe's nuclear economy since the reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011.
Nuclear energy is unavoidable in Europe, due to growing power consumption, it states. At the same time, 90 percent of current capacities are outdated and will need to be replaced by 2050.
According to the European Commission's estimates, alongside investing in new plants, the industry will also have to spend €45 billion to €50 billion to upgrade aging plants in order to keep them connected to the grid. "Many operators want to allow existing plants to operate longer than their original design intended," the report stated.
The European Commission is downplaying the costs and painting a rosy future for the nuclear industry. Rebecca Harms, Green Party MP
The report comes at the same time as Germany's utilities sue the government for the decision to close down nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, in a case that will determine who picks up the bill for winding down the facilities, whether tax payers or companies.
Germany's Green party has already voiced criticism of the Brussels report. "The European Commission is downplaying the costs and painting a rosy future for the nuclear industry," said Rebecca Harms, co-head of the Green Party group in the European Parliament, armed with an opposing study.
The second study argues that the European Commission is systematically underestimating the costs of extending the life of nuclear power plants, disposing of nuclear waste and demolishing some plants.
"At the same time, the European Commission is assuming high demand for electricity and therefore concluding that there is a need to continue operating old and dangerous reactors, as well as to build new power plants," Ms. Harms said.
Another point of criticism is that mandatory insurance is off the table. In its report, the Commission does not address the question of who is liable, and for how much, in the event of an accident at an older plant.
Ironically, this is precisely the issue it had emphasized after the Fukushima accident. In 2012, Günther Oettinger, who was the energy commissioner at the time, planned proposals for a uniform, European liability insurance for nuclear power plants.
He stressed at the time that this was the only way the European Union could ensure that operators would assume the liability for nuclear accidents, and that the costs of electricity from nuclear power would reflect an honest assessment of all costs.
So far, the Brussels agency has yet to come up with such a proposal, nor is it mentioned in its latest report.
Currently, each country in the European Union regulates the liability for nuclear accidents itself and the issue is handled differently across the region.
While operators in France are only liable for losses of up to about €91 million per power plant, in Germany a joint operators' liability insurance covers damages of more than €2 billion, and the individual companies are liable for further costs with their assets.
There are now 131 nuclear power plants connected to the grid in 14 European Union countries. On average, these plants are 30 years old.
New reactors are planned or being constructed in France, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and the United Kingdom.
The Commission recommends closer cooperation among national regulatory agencies when it comes to licensing. Better agreements and joint standards could reduce costs while improving safety at the same time.
Thomas Ludwig is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Brussels. To contact the author: [email protected]