Nuclear energy – considered relatively clean from the emissions viewpoint but more problematic as regards the management of waste, operational safety and protection against terrorist attacks – has polarised opinions across Europe, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) stressed in numerous texts adopted since 2005. Stricter operational standards, reinforced safety, new technologies and better communication with the public may well render nuclear energy more acceptable, it said, especially in view of the need to preserve the competitiveness of European industries and to meet environmental commitments, until clean and safe energy at competitive prices may become available via thermonuclear fusion or renewable energies, such as solar, wind and hydro-power or geothermal.
Modern nuclear power plants, envisaged by certain European states as a possible medium-term solution avoid increasing air pollution but still entail the unresolved problem of the processing and storage of radioactive nuclear waste as well as security risks in terms of accidents - natural, technological or caused by acts of terrorism. Therefore, an urgent assessment of the long-term safe storage of spent fuels and other forms of nuclear waste produced across the European continent needs to be undertaken by Council of Europe member states. In order to provide decision makers with accurate information on the environmental hazards and risks that different energy systems may entail, a standardised method for assessing them could be elaborated by the European Environment Agency, in co-operation with the International Energy Agency, PACE concluded.
PACE also stressed the importance of public opinion regarding civil nuclear programmes and called for citizens to have access to transparent information in order to fully understand the nuclear electricity generating process and especially the safety measures. Countries with developed nuclear industries should pool their efforts in order to provide assistance to the countries interested in developing nuclear energy, PACE said and called for the development of an international infrastructure for nuclear energy, based on broader international co-operation and on the active participation of all the countries concerned, for example through the creation of international nuclear fuel recycling centres (uranium enrichment, managing of spent nuclear fuel and personnel training) under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). PACE recommended that the existing international organisations concerned, in particular the IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) determine which technologies can be used for the construction of new power plants; ensure strict observance of the safety rules by the countries lacking experience with the nuclear industry; contribute to staff training and to monitoring of the entire process of nuclear energy production in these countries, especially in terms of compliance with nuclear safety rules.
PACE encouraged, amongst others, research and development in the field of nuclear waste management to minimise its environmental impact; any action to secure nuclear power plants against the risks of radioactive emissions as a result of natural or technological accidents or acts of terrorism or of war; called for research and development in the field of nuclear fusion to gradually replace current fission-based nuclear power plants;
PACE also invited member states which use nuclear energy to respect the decision of other states which, in accordance with the precautionary principle, have decided against it in order to increase the level of public safety by avoiding siting nuclear power plants close to their borders so as not to expose the public in neighbouring states to any danger in the event of an accident.
PACE finally stressed that the restructuring of the energy system should also be aimed at making renewable energies - solar, wind and hydro-power and geothermal - rapidly and comprehensively available.
PACE Conference 2010 on Nuclear Energy
Resolution 1679 (2009) : Nuclear energy and sustainable development
Recommendation 1879 (2009) : Renewable energies and the environment
Resolution 1588 (2007) : Radioactive waste and protection of the environment
Resolution 1434 (2005) : Europe’s growing energy vulnerability
Resolution 1435 (2005) : Energy systems and the environment