Members' Research Service By / September 7, 2023

Nuclear energy in the European Union

Nuclear policy has been present from the very beginning of the European Union. The six founding nations signed the Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Treaty) in 1957, which is one of the three founding treaties establishing the EU.

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Written by Monika Dulian.

According to Article 194(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, each Member State independently decides on its own energy mix and use of nuclear energy. However, there are common rules and standards on nuclear energy, the basis for which is the Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Treaty) signed in 1957. All current EU Member States are party to it and it has remained largely unchanged throughout the years. Common EU rules also stem from the Nuclear Safety Directive and Directive for the Management of Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel.

Currently, 12 out of 27 EU Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Finland, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) host nuclear power plants on their territory. Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Portugal do not produce nuclear power. Just recently, Germany decided to completely phase out nuclear energy production. In 2021, nuclear energy made up 13 % of Europe’s energy mix and accounted for 25 % of all electricity produced.

The debate on nuclear energy in the EU focuses on both opportunities and challenges. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are often seen as offering potential solutions to energy supply issues and are likely to become a commercially viable nuclear product by the early 2030s. SMRs could be used for district heating, desalination, heat processing for energy-intensive industries and hydrogen production. One of the main challenges is dependency on Russian nuclear technology, uranium and fuel supplies. Although many countries are trying to diversify their fuel supply, recent research estimates that, in some cases, the dependency is unlikely to decrease. Another important challenge is high-level nuclear waste and spent fuel management. The solution appears to be deep geological disposals that should open in the EU between 2024 and 2035.

Different groups of countries – branded as either the ‘nuclear alliance’ or the ‘friends of renewables’– regularly argue about the role of low carbon energy sources (produced from nuclear) in the green transition and, consequently, in various pieces of energy and climate legislation. Those discussions are likely to continue as new legislative proposals emerge.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Nuclear energy in the European Union‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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