In the coming weeks, the European Commission will publish a paper which outlines its vision for the future of nuclear energy in Europe. The Community Nuclear Illustrative Programme - or 'PINC 2016' - is the sixth in a series of such publications dating back to the late 1950s, and the first major update since 2007.
That makes it the first update to be published by the new European Commission under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker. However, on the basis of the current draft at least, those expecting a change in direction will be sorely disappointed.
Indeed, while the news has been littered with stories of the financial perils of the industry, the Commission is refusing to face up to the trouble nuclear is in, or the costs it passes on to consumers and tax payers. Instead, it paints a positively rosy future for the industry.
To get a sense of just how poorly nuclear has performed financially, it's worth having a look at what PINC 2007 had to say about costs of nuclear energy:
“nowadays a new nuclear plant involves an investment in the range of € 2 to 3.5 billion (for 1000 MWe to 1600 MWe respectively)”
These figures are in line with the estimates used at the time to estimate the costs of the two 1,600 MWe EPR projects in Olkiluoto, Finland and Flamanville, France, neither of which have been completed. Construction for both has met major delays, and they are now estimated to begin operating commercially in 2018, but construction costs are now estimated to reach a massive €8.5 and €10.5 billion respectively. In the UK, the Hinkley Point C project has proven equally disastrous, a now familiar tale of rising constructions costs, delays, and controversy around the level of state subsidy.
Yet there is no sign the Commission has been paying attention. Instead, they have set unrealistic targets to maintain most of Europe's current nuclear capacity until 2050, through a mixture of new builds and by extending the life span of existing plants. This is completely at odds with trends in the sector - not a single new reactor has come on line since 2007, and there are 21 fewer in operation.
Of course, it is also the first update since the Fukushima disaster, the fifth anniversary of which was marked last week. In the aftermath, the then Energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger implemented nuclear stress tests, uncovering a number of problems in the process. However, the subsequent recommendations have not been fully implemented, nor have proposals for a nuclear liability. Aside from the immediate human and environmental costs, the Fukushima disaster cost more than 100 billion Euros; just like in Japan, it is EU taxpayers that would be liable for the majority of costs of such a nuclear accident. PINC 2016 does nothing to address these failings.
The success of COP 21 in Paris means that we need to implement immediate measures for climate mitigation. Renewable technologies have outcompeted nuclear, both in costs and pace and volume of deployment, but there is no acknowledgement of this in the Commission's plans. It is time for the Commission to get real about Europe's energy future. Instead of planning to extend the future of costly and risky nuclear, it should be planning for its end.