“ We simply don ’ t have the luxury to avoid any carbon-neutral source of power , especially not nuclear power ” ones open for longer where it is safe to do so . The European Union would see the share of nuclear in its energy mix drop to just 4 % in 2040 if no investments were made in nuclear power , opening a supply gap for carbonintensive energy carriers like gas to step back in , the agency has warned .
“ We simply don ’ t have the luxury to avoid any carbon-neutral source of power , especially not nuclear power ,” says Mark Harbers , a Dutch member of parliament and spokesman for climate affairs of the conservative-liberal VVD party , the largest in the Dutch outgoing Dutch government . The government collapsed in January following a child benefit scandal but remains in office until national elections in March . “ If we do the maths , we simply don ’ t have enough space for the number of solar parks and wind farms you need if you want to refrain from nuclear power .”
The Netherlands is one of the European countries considering expanding its nuclear energy fleet to diversify its low-carbon energy resources . It targets a 95 % reduction below 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 2050 .
Dutch nuclear operator Elektriciteitsproducent Zuid-Nederland ( EPZ ), the owner of the country ’ s only nuclear plant , has already proposed building two new nuclear stations alongside lobbying for a second lifetime extension of its existing Borssele plant .
“ I doubt that we can meet this enormous future energy demand in the Netherlands with only sun and wind . It ’ s a pity that we cannot reach it by these renewable sources alone , so we need to have other CO2-neutral production methods as well . I think the choice for nuclear in this energy mix is obvious ,” says Carlo Wolters , chief executive officer of EPZ .
The Dutch government has picked KPMG to carry out a market consultation to ask potential nuclear investors what kind of support they would like to see from government , a clear signal that it is prepared to step in . A final report on the consultation is expected before the summer .
“ The roles are reversed – the government is now asking investors what they need to do to help them realise their ambitions . The question is whether they can hammer things out to everyone ’ s benefit ,” says Kirsty Gogan , managing partner at LucidCatalyst , a consultancy giving advice on decarbonisation . Yet , a Dutch government spokesman points out that it is too early to answers questions on what shape state support for nuclear could take .
Building new nuclear power plants requires huge upfront costs , a fact which has also not worked in its favour in recent years . One of the latest new nuclear plants under construction in Europe , EDF ’ s 3,260 MW Hinkley Point C station in the UK which will house two new reactors , is estimated to cost up to GBP 23bn after the company raised its costing forecast again last month . But to the Dutch government , nuclear energy is overall not more expensive than wind or solar energy when including network , connection and balancing costs . This was the conclusion of a recent report published by Austrian consultancy Enco which Dutch economics and climate minister Eric Wiebes commissioned and quoted .
If the Dutch government opts for state support to build new nuclear plants , the European Commission will need to approve it . The European executive is technologically agnostic but nuclear energy is not included in the EU taxonomy , the classification system of what economic activities are considered environmentally sustainable . This means nuclear projects do not qualify for support from any of the EU ’ s economic growth funds . “ There is a need , and opportunity , to get policy right so that nuclear is included within the EU taxonomy ,” says Julia Pyke , director of financing for EDF Energy ’ s planned Sizewell C nuclear plant in Britain .
The European Commission ’ s vice president , Frans Timmermans , recently said the body would not stand in the way of countries that choose to build new nuclear power stations . In 2014 and 2017 , it approved British and Hungarian plans , respectively , to subsidise new nuclear stations . The Czech Republic and Poland are also expected to request approval for state aid from the EC for new nuclear plants .
“ There is a considerable and growing appetite to build new nuclear plants in Europe . France , UK , the Czech Republic , Romania , Bulgaria , Poland and Estonia are all actively looking to expand their existing nuclear fleets or develop nuclear power programmes ,” says George Borovas , global head of nuclear for international law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth . He adds that government support , in whichever form , is essential for any new nuclear project .
Dutch nuclear operator EPZ is already on the lookout for partners to help achieve its ambition to build two new nuclear stations before the mid- 2030s . One of EPZ ’ s obvious choices is France ’ s EDF , which in 2010 signed a memorandum of understanding with EPZ-owner Delta , a regional Dutch energy provider , to build a second reactor at Borssele . The plans were quickly overshadowed by the Fukushima disaster . EDF did not reply to a request for comment on whether it is still interested in building new nuclear plants in the Netherlands .
EPZ has said it would prefer using third generation technology – either EPR , built by EDF , or APR , a Korean reactor design – due to the proven safety and reliability of existing units . “ Both EPR and APR1400 are sold by state-owned entities who would therefore be in a position to both supply the reactors and be partners if required . However , there will surely be a strong geopolitical element in any technology choice ,” says Simon Marshall , independent nuclear energy advisor and former director at Westinghouse . Still , EPRs currently under development at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have seen long delays and cost overruns .
Nevertheless , the question of how far the Dutch government is willing to go to support new nuclear plants will have to be answered by the new cabinet to be formed after national elections in March . “ I would advise the Netherlands to form clear policy and regulation and to ensure the reactor design is sufficiently complete and approved before starting construction ,” adds EDF Energy ’ s Pyke . n
Montel Magazine 1 – 2021