Europe’s Climate Plans Challenged by Looming Decommissioning of Nuclear Plants

A nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France.

A nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. Stefan Kuhn / Wikimedia Commons

Dozens of Europe’s aging nuclear power plants will be decommissioned in the coming decade or two, forcing the continent to find new energy sources to power roughly 60 million homes, Reuters reports.

Nuclear power supplies about 25 percent of Europe’s electricity, with 107 reactors generating a capacity of 100 gigawatts. But Reuters says that 90 of those reactors are at least 31 years old; on average, the reactors were designed to last 40 years. Regulators estimate that by 2030, 29 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in seven countries could be lost to closures of nuclear power plants.

“The nuclear industry in Europe will face numerous challenges ahead as the volume of reactors entering into decommissioning is booming,” Philippe Vié, global head of energy and utilities at the consulting firm, Capgemini, told Reuters.

Few new nuclear power plants are scheduled to be built and the continent’s economic powerhouse, Germany, is aiming to shut down its entire nuclear capacity of 20 gigawatts by 2022. A rapid expansion of wind and solar power across Europe will increasingly make up for some of the lost nuclear generating capacity as the European Union strives to meet a goal of decarbonizing the continent’s economy by 2050. But analysts say that Europe’s major economic powers will need to invest more than 55 billion euros in flexible generation capacity — mainly natural gas — by 2030.

“We have lots of renewables being built, but what we are likely to see, as nuclear plants close, is more volatility of supply,” said Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association.