Nuclear energy is the European Union's answer to meeting aggressive targets on carbon dioxide emissions while reducing dependency on fossil fuels, according to consultants Frost & Sullivan.
In a new report - entitled European Nuclear Power Sector: Trends and Opportunities - Frost & Sullivan says, "Despite the environmental risks, nuclear energy shows potential to reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, and therefore, will be a major contributor to the European energy mix in 2020."
The report notes that, despite the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the number of nuclear power reactors under construction worldwide "is still higher now than across the last two decades."
Frost and Sullivan pointed out that France, Finland, the UK and Sweden have all reaffirmed their commitment to nuclear power, while Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic are also planning to push ahead with new units, following increased safety assessments.
Neha Vikash, an energy and power supplies research analyst with Frost & Sullivan, commented: "It is difficult to envisage Europe phasing out nuclear power from its energy mix, despite the antagonistic stance of countries like Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium where there are likely to be embargoes on further nuclear power development. Nuclear power will play an active role in Europe's energy generation and in meeting the region's environmental goals."
"While there will be shutdowns, member states like the UK and Finland will push through better safety standards and support new nuclear build over the next four to five years," Vikash noted. "Apart from new builds, these states will also concentrate on increasing the share of electricity generation from renewables and decreasing their dependence on fossil fuels."
According to Frost & Sullivan, nuclear plant life extensions represent a bigger market over the next 20 years than new build for the current nuclear supply chain. Life extension projects are likely to take place at plants with a combined generating capacity of 132 GWe.
"Nuclear energy will remain a prime candidate as Europe mulls its decarbonizing options," the report says. "Carbon capture and storage (CCS) could potentially reduce the dependence on coal and gas. However, this technology is still at a nascent stage with few demonstration projects having been implemented."
Changing energy mix
Total European power generation will increase from 3338 TWh in 2010 to 3832 TWh in 2020, according to Frost & Sullivan. Over this period, however, output from nuclear power plants is expected to fall slightly, from 937 TWh to 910 TWh. Nuclear's share of total generation will drop from 28.0% to 23.7%, accordingly.
European wind turbines produced 119 TWh of electricity in 2010, while other renewable sources generated 124 TWh. Some 327 TWh came from hydropower. By 2020, wind is expected to generate 647 TWh, with 408 TWh coming from other renewables and 392 TWh from hydro.
The use of coal and oil for electricity generation is expected to drop significantly by the end of the decade. Output from coal- and oil-fired plants is forecast to be 517 TWh and 24 TWh, respectively, in 2020, down from 940 TWh and 105 TWh in 2010.
Vikash said, "Dependence on foreign imports, especially gas from Russia, is politically fraught. Therefore, nuclear energy will be among the few alternatives Europe is left with to meet its energy needs while staying on course to meet its climate change goals."
"Renewables represent the best foreseeable option, but are cost-intensive," according to Frost & Sullivan. "Moreover, it is not possible for renewables to compensate for the large-scale energy production currently supported by nuclear sources, until the next decade."