Cuts in Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine have reignited interest in Europe about using nuclear energy as an alternative to hydrocarbons, sparking environmentalists’ ire.
“On nuclear energy, this crisis will have consequences for the way we consider energy security in all EU countries,” said Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency.
“One of the ways this might happen is to argue in favor of the return of nuclear energy,” he told a news conference in Brussels on Thursday.
The debate is already going strong in former Soviet bloc members of the EU which are highly dependent on Russian gas and have been hit hard by supply cuts in the standoff between Moscow and Kiev.
Even as Russia and Ukraine neared a deal that would lead to a resumption of gas supplies, Slovakia said on Saturday it would begin reopening a power generator at the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant because of the cutoff.
The decision was taken “in the interests of Slovakia, industry and citizens” Prime Minister Robert Fico said.
On Dec. 31, Slovakia shut down the last unit of the Jaslovske Bohunice plant in line with a commitment it made as a condition for its 2004 entry into the EU.
“We know that this is a violation of our conditions of membership” in the European Union, he said, but given the circumstances, there is “a risk of a blackout” that must be addressed.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso had warned Slovakia against the move, saying that the response to the gas cuts was not to go back on promises.
Nuclear energy has long been one of the most sensitive subjects in Europe and it got a boost last year during the oil price boom when it was seen in some countries such as Britain and Italy as a possible alternative.
However, other countries slowly giving up on nuclear energy, such as Belgium, Germany and Sweden, refuse that it be openly touted as a solution for Europe’s future energy needs.
Meanwhile other European countries such as Ireland have never used nuclear energy.
France, by far Europe’s biggest nuclear power generator, has promoted its use as a way of reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Paris sees the Russian gas crisis as another argument in favor of nuclear energy, not to mention a source for potential new contracts for state controlled power giant Electricite de France.
Nuclear energy generates about one third of the EU’s electricity and accounts for about 15 percent of the bloc’s total energy consumption.