By 2025, 1/3 of European nuclear power plants will be eligible for retirement
There are 171 nuclear reactors for the production of electricity in operation on the territory of 18 countries of Europe. There are currently 12 reactors under construction, and another 26 are in the planning phase
During the 1960s and 1970s, due to the accelerated development and improvement of nuclear technologies, there was an expansion of the construction of nuclear power plants in other countries as well. That trend stagnated after the accident in Chernobyl in 1986, as well as after the accident in Fukushima in 2011, due to concerns about the safety of existing reactors and the necessity of additional safety improvements – says Vladimir Janjić, assistant director and head of inspection at the Directorate for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and Security of Serbia.
According to the time of creation and the level of technological development, nuclear reactors can be divided into four generations. Some of the key attributes that characterize each generation are, among others, the safety and security of reactors, nuclear fuel and associated systems, economic efficiency, compatibility with the national energy grid, and the life cycle of nuclear fuel.
Most of the active reactors in Europe belong to the second generation
– Most of the reactors active today in Europe belong to the second generation. They were built during the seventh and eighth decades of the last century. Over time, safety and security systems and procedures have been constantly improved. This was done in accordance with stricter regulatory requirements and international standards. So we are talking about the so-called II+ generation of reactors. From the mid-1990s and during the following decade, the application and construction of generation III and III+ reactors began. The construction of the reactors itself has been further improved. As well as the technology of production and use of nuclear fuel, thermal efficiency and safety and security systems
The fourth generation of nuclear reactors is under development. It is expected to be ready for commercial use after 2030. Many countries are also considering the construction of small modular reactors. This technology is still in the stage of development and testing. However, it is considered to be the future of the further development of the nuclear industry. Most countries decide to purchase commercially available reactors and supporting systems from Russia (Rosatom), USA (Westinghouse), France (Framatome) or Canada (Candu Energy).
– In Europe, there are 171 nuclear reactors in operation that are used for the production of electricity, in 18 countries. France has 56, Russia 38, including the Asian part, Ukraine 15, Great Britain nine, Spain and Belgium seven each, Sweden and the Czech Republic six each, Finland five, Slovakia, Hungary and Switzerland four each, Germany three, Romania and Bulgaria each two, and one each is located in Belarus, Slovenia and the Netherlands. All these nuclear power plants generate from 20 to 25 percent of the total electricity production on European soil.
Twelwe reactors are currently under construction in Europe
Currently, 12 reactors are under construction. In Great Britain, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine, France and Belarus. Another 26 reactors are in the planning phase: in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, Great Britain. To date, a total of 118 nuclear reactors in Europe have reached the end of their useful lives. They have either already been dismantled or are in the process of being decommissioned.
The working cycle of currently active nuclear reactors is on average 50 years. Many countries deciding to extend their life, based on the comprehensive condition of systems and components, economic profitability and available capacities for electricity production. It is expected that the working life of the new generations of reactors will be longer than 60 years. That will also affect the economic profitability of the construction of nuclear power plants. It is estimated that by 2025, a third of the existing nuclear reactors in Europe will be at the end of their initially planned working life.
Certain countries, such as Italy and Lithuania, have permanently shut down all their nuclear power plants or plan to do so in the near future, such as Germany and Belgium. There are countries that build energy stability mainly on nuclear technology. They will do it by building new power plants or expanding current capacities. In Austria and Denmark, just like in Serbia, laws prohibiting the construction of nuclear power plants are in force.
The biggest challenges as storing spent nuclear fuel are still unresolved
One of the main challenges of the nuclear industry is the problem of storing spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste resulting from the decommissioning of nuclear facilities. It is estimated that around 7,000 cubic meters of high-level waste is generated annually in the EU. Most countries temporarily store spent nuclear fuel and other high-level waste in surface facilities that require ongoing maintenance and monitoring. Finland is currently the only country that permanently disposes of its radioactive waste in underground geological repositories.
Alternative solutions, apart from reducing the total amount of radioactive waste, include the processing of spent nuclear fuel in order to extract unused uranium and plutonium. It can be reused for the same purposes. Currently, processing of spent nuclear fuel in Europe is carried out in France and Russia.