Electricity

Balkan leaders endorse nuclear energy expansion at Brussels global summit

Balkan leaders nuclear Brussels global summit

Photo: Fatih Birol / X

Published

March 22, 2024

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Published:

March 22, 2024

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Leaders and government representatives of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey participated at the Nuclear Energy Summit 2024 in Brussels. The top global event epitomized the rapid policy turnaround back toward atomic energy. One of the factors is the surge in projects for the small modular reactor technology, even though it is far from maturity.

Belgium and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted the Nuclear Energy Summit 2024 in Brussels. It gathered heads of state and government and delegations from 36 countries that already host nuclear plants or plan to introduce them.

A decade after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, which again ruined the technology’s reputation, the decarbonization imperative began to turn things around. Political support for nuclear energy particularly rebounded in Europe, especially with hopes in the upcoming small modular reactor (SMR) solutions.

Countries that lack a renewables potential are the ones especially in need of nuclear energy, IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said

Two major exceptions are Germany, which shut down its remaining reactors a year ago, and Spain, where they are set to be gradually closed by 2035. Conversely, Poland sided with the pro-nuclear camp, Slovakia built its first reactor, Italy is considering to return to nuclear energy and Estonia is examining the possibility of approving SMRs.

“Without the support of nuclear power, we have no chance to reach our climate targets on time,” the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said. While pointing to the major role of renewables, especially solar power, he said the world also needs nuclear power, especially in countries without a high renewables potential.

Von der Leyen: Think twice before rejecting nuclear energy

“Green transition is faltering, not just from slow progress but from growing fatigue. Nuclear energy, a key ally in the fight against climate change, is crucial for a balanced energy mix,” according to Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi. He claimed the technology saves “millions of lives from air pollution” and provides some of the most cost-effective electricity.

The World Nuclear Association’s Director General Sama Bilbao y León recalled that 25 governments supported an initiative, launched at the COP28 summit in Dubai, to triple global nuclear capacity. “As an industry we are here ready to meet the challenge and turn policies into projects to deliver the necessary nuclear energy expansion,” she stressed.

The IAEA chief claims nuclear energy saves millions of lives from air pollution

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that extending the safe operation of the current nuclear fleet is one of the cheapest ways to secure clean power at scale. She argued it can help pave a cost-effective path to net zero emissions.

“Given the urgency of the climate challenge, countries need to consider their options carefully before they forego a readily available source of low-emission electricity,” Von der Leyen stated.

Public support comes from nuclear safety

Addressing the participants at the Nuclear Energy Summit 2024, Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob said nuclear safety comes first and that it is the factor securing public support. It’s been over four decades since the Krško nuclear power plant was built. More than 65% of the country’s population has a positive opinion on nuclear energy, a record high, he added.

“Slovenia is planning to decarbonize electricity production by 2040. There is only one way to achieve this – with a combination of ambitious renewable energy plans and increased nuclear capacities,” the prime minister underscored.

Balkan nuclear Brussels global summit
Robert Golob (Government of Slovenia / X)

Croatia, another country in the region that Balkan Green Energy News covers, owns 50% of Krško. It is also known for its domestic acronym NEK. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels that if all member states decide to cooperate, the European Union would be able to mobilize the scientific, technological and financial capital to address the greatest challenges in the sector.

Greenpeace slams Croatia f0r ambition to join NEK 2 project

Negotiations are underway on Croatia’s possible participation in the NEK 2 project. It drew severe criticism from Greenpeace, which sent open letters to Plenković and President Zoran Milanović.

“In addition to the fact that the construction of its infrastructure is too expensive and too slow, nuclear energy is neither renewable nor sustainable and it opens more questions and problems than it solves. Even after more than four decades of co-ownership over Krško NPP, Croatia has no solution for the issue of nuclear waste disposal. Until this extremely serious problem is solved, it is irresponsible to enter new dangerous, expensive adventures that the Slovenian media currently estimate at EUR 10 billion,” the nongovernmental organization said.

It is one of more than 600 groups from 56 countries and territories that issued a declaration against “nuclear fairytales.” They called on governments to secure renewable energy instead. A protest was held in Brussels during the event.

Greenpeace argued against earmarking EUR 5 billion of Croatian taxpayers’ money for a nuclear power project without a determined timeline or cost. It also pointed to the risks of conflict, earthquakes, cyberattacks and extreme weather events.

prosvjedi-na-pronuklearnom-summitu-u-Bruxellesu-autor-Guillaume-Chauvin
Guillaume Chauvin / Greenpeace

Bulgaria to double capacity by 2035

Romania is gradually consolidating its integrated nuclear cycle by strengthening the production of uranium and heavy water, Minister of Energy Sebastian Burduja asserted.

The world’s third detrition – tritium removal facility is under construction at Cernavodă, the country’s sole nuclear power plant, he said. Tritium is considered a possible fuel for nuclear fusion, Burduja stressed. Romania is developing an SMR project and looking to add two reactors in Cernavodă.

Bulgaria has a proven 50-year track record in the safe and secure operation of its Kozloduy nuclear power plant, according to outgoing Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov. He said investments in new-generation technologies and diversification are the cornerstone of the national strategy. Additionally, the country has a unique experience in the decommissioning of reactors, the prime minister noted.

Minister of Energy Rumen Radev said the main challenge in Bulgaria is to gradually replace coal and that nuclear energy is seen as the  alternative. The government aims to double the nuclear capacity by 2035, he added.

Serbia needs SMRs to power its defense industry

In his speech in Brussels, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić revealed that the government is interested in building “at least four SMRs that can replace 1,200 MW.”

However, the government doesn’t know how to finance such a project, worth up to EUR 8 billion, in his words. “We’ll be ready to participate significantly, but we need to get some sort of support from the other sides, from the leading states, leading countries of the European Union,” Vučić stated. He highlighted the ambition to boost the weapons industry and overall economic growth.

“Changing people’s mindsets is not easy. But we are ready to do it, which means that we’ll not only adjust but we’ll have to change an overall legislative framework. And we’ll do it,” the president asserted. There is a nuclear moratorium in Serbia since 1989.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić hinted that the country’s nuclear moratorium would be abolished

In its energy policy, Serbia significantly leans on cooperation with neighboring Hungary. Its Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it is in everyone’s interest “to prevent nuclear energy to become hostage of geopolitical conflicts, hypocrisy and ideological debates.” His country is building its second nuclear power plant, Paks 2, with Rosatom and financing it with a Russian loan.

Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan said the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is under construction, would meet 10% of domestic power demand. The government is planning more conventional facilities and SMRs, he told the audience. Rosatom is the contractor for Akkuyu as well.

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