• Up to 760 billion euros required by mid-century, EU study says
  • Report finds 90% of atomic capacity to need replacing by 2050

The European Union will need to spend between 650 billion euros ($741 billion) and 760 billion euros by 2050 on its aging atomic power plants, according to an EU report.

Building new plants is set to cost between 350 billion euros and 450 billion euros, constituting the biggest part of the future investment, according to the EU overview published by the European Commission on Monday. By the middle of the century, 90 percent of the existing nuclear power generation capacity will need to be replaced, the report found.

Nuclear waste management is projected to cost 130 billion euros and decommissioning 123 billion euros, according to the periodic overview, the first after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant and prompted the EU to tighten its nuclear safety standards. While the EU’s 28 member states have the sovereign right to decide about their energy mixes, they have to stick to EU rules on security, spent fuels and radioactive waste.

“Five years after the accident at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, Europe has learnt the lessons,” EU Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said. “Together we should be able to identify ways to cooperate across Europe to ensure that knowledge about the safest use of nuclear power plants is shared, rather than done separately by each regulator, and that the management of radioactive waste is secured financially by member states until its final disposal."

Energy Choices

The report highlights the challenges that European nations are facing to make their energy choices in the next decades as the bloc aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and seeks to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. The 129 nuclear reactors in 14 EU member states have a total capacity of 120 gigawatts and generate 27 percent of European electricity.

Atomic capacity in Europe will drop up to 2025 as some governments, including Germany and France, seek to phase out or reduce its share in the energy mix, the commission said. The trend will reverse by 2030 as some reactors get life extensions and new units are connected to the grid, it projected. By 2050, nuclear capacity is to stabilize at between 95 gigawatts and 105 gigawatts, generating around 20 percent of EU power.

Extending the lives of existing reactors, whose average age is close to 30 years, will require investment of 45 billion euros to 50 billion euros by mid-century, the report showed. National authorities assume that granting long-term operation programs to such reactors will give them additional 10 to 20 years on average, the commission said.

The report also showed a funding gap in decommissioning, or the final step of a nuclear reactor’s lifecycle. Out of the 89 reactors than have already been permanently shut down in Europe as of October, only three -- all in Germany -- have been completely decommissioned, the report showed.

Utilities that are more than 60 percent through their lives have so far accumulated assets to cover more than 50 percent of the expected costs, which include the dismantling of plants and storage of radioactive waste. The number will change should the reactors’ life be extended, according to the commission.

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