Nuclear's future role highlighted at top-level energy conference

The future role of nuclear in Europe was one of the dominant topics at an international conference that took place in Brussels on 2-3 March. Peter Haug, the ENS’s secretary general, in his capacity as moderator of the discussion pertaining to this topic, seized the moment to make the case for nuclear in his opening remarks. He stated that presentations given at the conference had shown that nuclear must be part of the solution to the global energy equation. There was no other energy source to equal nuclear in terms of economics and emissions avoidance.

The main theme of this 'Energy Choices for Europe 2004' conference was 'Energy and the Wider Europe'. In presentations and during discussion sessions, the need to use a range of energy options was stressed by conference speakers and other participants.

Specific sessions covered topics such as security of energy supply, the opening up of energy markets, energy and the environment, energy policy in the new Europe and the outlook for nuclear energy.

The opening keynote speaker was RWE board member Gert Maichel, who gave a presentation on competitiveness in the wider European energy markets. During a discussion session, a question was asked about how Europe's energy sector could meet future challenges, including the need to construct hundreds of new power plants over the next couple of decades. Dr Maichel responded that he was firmly convinced that the sector had the finance, know-how and the will to make such new investments, if the conditions were right.

The keynote speaker for the session on nuclear was BNFL chief executive, Mike Parker, who said the industry should focus on a high level of transparency that would lead to a balanced debate. He added that he was not ‘for’ any single energy source but did favour reliable electricity supplies.

Other speakers included prominent Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Observer MEPs from the accession states, senior officials from the European Commission, government ministers and energy company chiefs. Among the international organisations represented were the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the IAEA.

The IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, was the guest speaker at a conference dinner, and he issued a warning that Europe would soon have to take some crucial decisions on the energy front.

He said: “In conclusion, let me point out that the current ‘holding period’ for nuclear power in Europe will soon come to an end. In the near future, Europe will be faced with important energy decisions. With an increasing number of nuclear power plants reaching their original design lifetimes, Europe will have to decide how to replace its retiring nuclear power plants."

“Making these decisions will depend, to some extent, on where you choose to place your emphasis — for example, on exploring available coal and natural gas resources, improving the performance and cost of renewables, or placing greater reliance on imports. What seems clear is that the only baseload option available today with low carbon emissions comparable to nuclear power is large hydropower – and sites for hydropower expansion are somewhat limited in Europe."

“At the end of the day, whether your decisions involve decommissioning, extending the life of existing reactors, or building the next generation of European nuclear power plants, the IAEA will be ready to assist you in your efforts to ensure a safe and secure energy supply."

The organisers of the conference, Touchstone International, have announced a much more elaborate event next year, called Europe Energy Week, featuring exhibitions and workshops in addition to the main conference. This is due to take place from Monday 28 February to Friday 4 March 2005.

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