On the outskirts of Paris, this subsidised housing block has solar panels on the roof. A renewable energy NGO called CLER manages the initiative, in a country where nuclear power provides a significant portion of the overall needs. Renewables in France represent less than six percent of the whole — about the EU average. Setting an EU legally-binding target for energy production from renewable sources at twenty percent may still be well short of a consensus. But if nuclear energy is recognised as a valid part of the equation, that could help win agreement.
Arnaud Brunel is the head of CLER. He supports the idea of nuclear co-existence with renewables, as a realistic option. He said: “Today, we are no longer debating nuclear’s role compared to renewable sources. We are really promoting getting energy under control, energy efficiency, and developing renewables in France, where they are almost non-existant, certainly for producing electricity.”
Some eighty percent of France’s electricity needs are met by nuclear power. The EU average is little more than thirty percent. Finland, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria are working on new reactors. Although these reactors emit relatively little carbon dioxide, used fuel is another environmental problem, therefore public opinion is strongly anti-nuclear in several countries. Greenpeace clean energy campaigner Frauke Thies disagrees with the German chancellor’s pro-nuclear stance.
Britain is again looking at an expanded role for nuclear power in future energy policy. Germany has so far stuck to its plan to phase out nuclear by 2020. Sweden has ambitions to move away from fossil fuels altogether without more nuclear plants.
Santiago San Antonio of the European Atomic Forum insists more countries must consider nuclear solutions. He said: “The European Commission’s proposal concerning the reduction of CO2 emissions is not explicit about it but if we aim to reduce the EU’s dependence on outside suppliers, and guarantee the electricity supply in Europe, we can only conclude that everything will depend on nuclear energy.”
Leading economists say efficiency is the main way both to curb climate change and to cut energy imports; according to this view, renewables and nuclear power are secondary solutions. Efficiency requires innovation, of course, and EU states are also split on how to bring more competition to their energy markets.