The European Commission has formally adopted the REPowerEU plan which aims to rapidly reduce EU dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The plan recognises that nuclear will have a role to play in ensuring security of EU energy supplies, and highlights the importance of coordinated action to reduce dependence on Russian nuclear materials and fuel cycle services.
EU leaders in March agreed to phase out Europe's dependency on Russian energy imports as soon as possible, and asked the Commission to swiftly put forward a detailed plan to do this.
"REPowerEU is about rapidly reducing our dependence on Russian fossil fuels by fast forwarding the clean transition and joining forces to achieve a more resilient energy system and a true Energy Union," the Commission said in its communication of the plan, dated 18 May. Building on the EU's Fit for 55 package of proposals and completing actions on energy security of supply and storage, the REPowerEU plan puts forward an additional set of actions to save energy; diversify supplies; quickly substitute fossil fuels by accelerating Europe's clean energy transition; and "smartly" combine investments and reforms.
"The REPowerEU plan cannot work without a fast implementation of all Fit for 55 proposals and higher targets for renewables and energy efficiency," the Commission said. In the "new reality", the role of gas as a transitional fuel will be more limited as the EU's gas consumption will reduce at a faster pace than previously envisaged. "In parallel, some of the existing coal capacities might also be used longer than initially expected, with a role for nuclear power and domestic gas resources too."
Shifting away from Russian fossil fuels will require targeted investments for security of supply in gas infrastructure, as well as large-scale investments in the electricity grid and an EU-wide hydrogen backbone, the plan notes. Hydrogen will be key to replace natural gas, coal and oil in hard-to-decarbonise industries and transport, and REPowerEU sets a target of 10 million tonnes of domestic renewable hydrogen production and 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen imports by 2030. Fossil-free hydrogen - "notably nuclear-based" - will also play a role in substituting natural gas.
To diversify their options, EU Member States that are currently dependent on Russia for nuclear fuel for their reactors will need to work within the EU and with international partners "to secure alternative sources of uranium and boosting the conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication capacities available in Europe or in EU's global partners."
Stopping the phase out of nuclear power plants can help to reduce the EU's dependence on Russian gas, Foratom Director General Yves Desbazeille said. "Furthermore, the Commission makes clear that this will also bring economic benefits, as it will lead to lower investment costs. Given this, we firmly believe that one of the best ways of ensuring security of supply and lower investment costs today is to keep as many nuclear power plants running for as long as possible."
However, more needs to be done to support the development of new nuclear projects, including small modular reactors, to secure a long-term, stable and affordable supply of low-carbon energy for the EU, Foratom said.
"Relying on massive imports of renewable hydrogen from outside of Europe to meet our demands will not solve our import dependency issues," Desbazeille said. "We need to focus on increasing production of low-carbon hydrogen in Europe. The best way of achieving this is through an electricity mix made up of nuclear and renewables."