Nuclear Power Could Help Europe Cut Ties to Russia, but Not for Years

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President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a nuclear power renaissance in France envision a wave of large and small new-generation atomic reactors at an estimated starting price of €50 billion ($57 billion) — a staggering cost that other European countries can’t or won’t take on. Buildup won’t be fast, he acknowledged, in part because the industry also needs to train a new generation of nuclear power engineers.

“Most governments push and push, and even if they start building it takes a long time,” Mr. Stern of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies said. “All these other technologies are advancing rapidly and they’re all getting cheaper, while nuclear isn’t advancing and it’s getting more expensive.”

In the meantime, many of France’s aging reactors, built to forge energy independence after the 1970s oil crisis, have been paused for safety inspections, making it difficult for French nuclear power to help bridge a Russian energy squeeze, said Anne-Sophie Corbeau of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

“Nuclear production will decrease in France this year unless you find a magic solution, but there is no magic solution,” she said.

Still, Moscow’s aggression may help reverse what had been an arc of the industry’s gradual decline.

Recently there has been a string of upbeat declarations. Besides Britain’s announcement this month to expand its nuclear capacity, the Netherlands, with one reactor, plans to build two more to supplement solar, wind and geothermal energy.

And in Eastern Europe, a number of countries in Russia’s shadow had been making plans to build fleets of nuclear reactors — a move that advocates say appears prescient in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NuScale Power, an Oregon company selling a new reactor design that it claims will be cheaper and quicker to build because key components will be assembled in factories, has signed preliminary deals in Romania and Poland.

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