The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) does not leave a good hair on the EU Commission’s proposal for a taxonomy regulation. “From a technical point of view, the classification of nuclear power as a sustainable form of energy production is not tenable,” explained BASE President Wolfram König. “Nuclear energy is a high-risk technology, generates waste and carries the risk of radioactive material being misused for terrorist and war purposes.”
In June last year, BASE analyzed a report by the EU’s Joint Research Center (JRC) on nuclear power, on which the EU Commission’s decision to include nuclear power in the taxonomy was based. The Federal Office had come to the conclusion that the JRC report presented the effects of the use of nuclear energy incompletely, methodologically inadequate and in a highly simplistic manner. Now these shortcomings have continued in the EU Commission’s proposal from New Year’s Eve.
From a professional point of view, it is particularly to be criticized that the current safety regulations are intended to avoid serious accidents as far as possible, but can never rule them out. Accidents in nuclear power plants can have significant, transboundary environmental impacts, especially if radioactive substances are released. Life and health in the EU could be directly endangered on a large scale. If the Commission considers the operation of the power plant to be sustainable, it also indirectly promotes the mining of uranium as a fossil fuel and thus an unsustainable activity associated with considerable environmental risks, the BASE continues in its statement (PDF).
Retrofits, operator liability, nuclear waste
Nuclear power plants, which were often designed for an operating life of 30 to 40 years, would have to be retrofitted. However, this is only possible to a limited extent due to the structural conditions. In addition, materials aged and became brittle, which could change their behavior beyond the original design period. It is therefore questionable to what extent existing systems can still achieve a regularly developed safety level.
BASE also objects that operator liability is severely limited in many EU countries. The liability sums would not be sufficient for serious accidents with significant leakage of radioactivity, so the polluter pays principle was violated.
For the BASE, it is technically incomprehensible why “advanced technologies” should be taken into account in the taxonomy; what is meant is gas-cooled fast reactors, lead-cooled fast reactors, molten-salt reactors, sodium-cooled fast reactors, supercritical light water reactors and ultra-high temperature reactors. Some of the reactor types discussed internationally are based on principles that have been known for decades and which could never have prevailed for safety or commercial reasons. Others are concept studies that have never been tested on a large scale and therefore cannot be conclusively assessed today from a safety point of view. In addition, BASE is not aware of a single concept proposal for new reactor lines that would make a deep geological repository superfluous.
The waste from some new reactor lines would even create new disposal problems. All in all, the question of the disposal of highly radioactive waste is unresolved worldwide 70 years after the technology was introduced. Deep geological repositories must be built, operated and sealed, which must ensure that radiotoxic waste is safely contained for hundreds of thousands of years.
A few selected countries have specified their plans for the first repositories in recent years. So far, however, there has been no empirical operating experience for these repositories. Even in the case of the commissioning of the first repository for high-level radioactive waste, the site and concept-specific characteristics are so complex that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the safety of other national repository projects from the first projects.
BASE also objects that the civil use of nuclear energy cannot be completely decoupled from military use in technological terms. “The complex international safeguards regime to prevent nuclear proliferation has proven to have failed in the past,” the statement said. The risk of misuse could increase significantly, particularly with the promotion of “advanced technologies”.
In its proposal for a taxonomy regulation, the EU Commission classifies the construction of new nuclear power plants licensed until 2045 and the extension of the service lives of old power plants as sustainable economic activity. Research and development projects on “advanced technologies” are also to be included. The EU Commission stipulates that internationally applicable safety regulations are to be complied with, a fund set up to finance disposal and plans for the operation of a repository for high-level radioactive waste from 2050 onwards.
In November 2011, BASE director Wolfram König objected that favoring nuclear power could result in less money flowing into renewable energies. Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke has already announced a “clear no” to nuclear power, and the Federal Government is to submit a statement to the EU Commission shortly.