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Europe faces tough decisions over nuclear power





Decisions around the future of nuclear energy are urgently needed in Europe.


Russian supplies of natural gas have been disrupted amidst the war in Ukraine, energy prices have soared to emergency levels.


Meanwhile, some countries are suffering a lingering hangover from the Covid-19 pandemic. In France, half of the country's nuclear power plants are currently not operating.


The main reasons are corrosion, planned maintenance, and delayed maintenance due to pandemic-linked staffing issues, explains Phuc Vinh Nguyen, who researches European energy policy at the Jacques Delors Energy Center in France.


Mr Nguyen warns that across the EU the energy price crisis will probably last until at least 2024.


In this situation, some see the use of nuclear reactors as a way to decouple from Russian natural gas.


Russian influence also looms over many aspects of nuclear power generation: Russia dominates the supply of nuclear fuel, the enrichment of uranium, and the building of nuclear power plants in other countries.


At Leibstadt, Switzerland's largest and youngest nuclear power plant, half of the uranium supply currently comes from Russia. There, as elsewhere, there's a scramble to source more uranium from outside the Russian sphere of influence.


The backdrop to this is that the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility is raising fresh fears about the weaponisation of nuclear science.


Fabian Lüscher, who heads the nuclear energy section at the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES), says that Europe's ageing nuclear fleet is not adapted to deal with contemporary terrorist attacks and cyberattacks. "You even have to think of those very unlikely possibilities when planning risky infrastructure," Mr Lüscher argues.


And then, of course, there's the problem of nuclear waste.


Angélique Huguin is part of a group of activists affiliated with the anti-nuclear movement Sortir du nucléaire, who have taken up residence near the Cigéo nuclear research laboratory in northeastern France.


The activists share a home in the charming commune of Bure, amidst stone houses with bright blue shutters.

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