Upon launch of an EU forum on the issue, the European Commission says nuclear energy has a role in the bloc's low-carbon future
The case for greater use of nuclear energy in the EU received a high-profile boost on Monday, as the bloc formally launched its Nuclear Energy Forum, serving as the first-ever channel for EU-wide dialogue on the often taboo issue.
"We are now standing on the brink of a Third Industrial Revolution: the Low Carbon Age...In this context I really believe that there is a need for a full and frank debate about nuclear energy", European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said in his welcome address to the forum, inaugurated in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The platform for the first time brings together all the key players in order to discuss the opportunities and risks in using nuclear energy in member states' low carbon energy mix -- something that should also help shape the future of the nuclear sector in the EU.
Although it is not for Brussels to decide whether a member state goes nuclear or not, the EU's executive body under Mr Barroso's leadership has not shied away from supporting the nuclear path.
"Nuclear energy has a role to play in meeting our growing concerns about security of supply and CO2 emission reductions", Mr Barroso said, urging a swift shift from fossil fuels to low carbon energy.
Production and use of energy currently represent 80 percent of all green house gas emissions, according to commission data.
In addition, Mr Barroso pointed to the fact that nuclear energy is "less vulnerable to fuel price changes than some other energy sources" -- an important factor for the EU, which depends on geo-politically uncertain regions for its oil and gas.
Currently, 15 member states have nuclear power stations and it is a main source of electricity in some. Altogether, around one third of electricity and 15 percent of the EU bloc's overall energy is of nuclear origin.
The future of nuclear energy in the bloc remains uncertain however, as many countries would like to see a solution to the problem of radioactive waste.
EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs, speaking to the forum in Bratislava, laid down two "absolute conditions" for the use of nuclear energy -- safety and the public support.
"Safety cannot be compromised on", Mr Piebalgs said, referring to the safe operation of nuclear power plants as well as the safe management of the resulting waste.
According to the commissioner, public acceptance should be the second important pillar for the use of nuclear energy.
The latest EU-wide opinion poll shows that 53 percent of Europeans think that the risks posed by nuclear energy are greater than the advantages it offers.
On the other hand, one third sees nuclear energy more as an advantageous source of energy than a risk.
Only in six countries -- Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia and Bulgaria -- people who trust nuclear energy outnumber those who oppose it.
Asked about specific aspects of nuclear energy, 69 percent of Europeans agreed with the premise that it decreases energy dependency, 50 percent with the idea that it ensures lower and more stable energy prices and 46 percent with the idea that it plays a positive in the fight against global warming.