Brussels Makes the Case for Nuclear

The EU's growing energy needs lead the European Commission to call for a renewed consideration of nuclear power

The European commission has called on EU states to consider greater use of nuclear energy in order to avoid increasing dependence on oil and gas imports and to improve the bloc's energy security.

"Member states cannot avoid the question of nuclear energy. There needs to be a total and frank debate regarding this problem", commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said at a high-level conference on energy in Madrid.

In addition, competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, who also took part in the conference, said she was personally "completely in favour of nuclear power".

The use of nuclear energy has not been popular in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the public opinion on the issue remains rather sceptical.

The bloc's growing energy needs, however, as well as its increasing dependence on imports, notably from Russia, have prompted the EU to look towards other energy sources.

Among the EU states, France is one of those where nuclear energy is most developed -- it gets over 75 percent of its electricity from it.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently called on neighbouring Germany to follow its example, but, despite discussion, Berlin has not changed its decision to shut all its nuclear plants by 2020

This difference in positions was also reflected at the Madrid conference on Monday (1 October).

The industry's representatives from the French side largely backed the call for greater nuclear energy use.

"I am convinced that nuclear power is the response to European challenges", said Pierre Gadonneix, president of French electricity giant EDF which operates 58 of the nuclear power plants in France.

"Everybody knows that some day we will have to tackle nuclear issue, when we discuss it in private settings, everybody agrees", he added according to AFP.

But the president of German company E.ON, Wulf Bernotat, was less enthusiastic.

Nuclear power is a "very religious issue in Germany", he said, adding that "public opinion has to be changed before one can consider nuclear again as a revival in the energy mix".

It is generally up to member states to decide their energy sources and the commission -- notably president Barroso, had mostly refrained from intervening in this sphere so far.

However, energy commission Andris Piebalgs told Spanish daily El Pais on Monday that the EU should do its best to generate 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear sources in order to enhance the bloc's energy security.

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