Lawyers send complaint to European Commission about subsidies for nuclear power

Paul Boughton
A formal complaint about subsidies for nuclear power has been sent to the European Commission. If it is upheld, it unlikely that any new nuclear power stations will be built in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. The complaint may be followed by legal action in the courts or actions by politicians to reduce or remove subsidies for nuclear power.

The complaint has been prepared by lawyers for the campaign group Energy Fair group, with several other environmental groups and environmentalists.

One of the largest subsidies in the complaint is the cap on liabilities for nuclear accidents. “Like car drivers, the operators of nuclear plants should be properly insured,” says Energy Fair. It has been calculated that, if nuclear operators were fully insured against the cost of nuclear disasters like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, the price of nuclear electricity would rise by at least 14 Eurocents per kWh and perhaps as much as 2.36 Euros, depending on assumptions made. Even with the minimum increase, nuclear electricity would become quite uncompetitive.

Other subsidies in the complaint are: that uranium is exempted from a tax on fuels used to generate electricity, and that the UK government is proposing to provide support for the disposal of nuclear waste, and to provide a subsidy in the form of a 'feed-in tariff with contracts for difference'. Research by Energy Fair shows that there are several other subsidies for nuclear power in the UK and that proposals by the government would introduce more.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green party of England and Wales, said: “The Government’s planned Electricity Market Reform is set to rig the energy market in favour of nuclear - with the introduction of a carbon price floor likely to result in huge windfall handouts of around £50m a year to existing nuclear generators. Despite persistent denials by Ministers, it’s clear that this is a subsidy by another name, which makes a mockery of the Coalition pledge not to gift public money to this already established industry. If these subsidies are found to be unlawful, I trust the European Commission will take action and prevent the UK’s nuclear plans from seriously undermining the shift towards new green energy.”

Mike Childs, Head of Policy, Research and Science at Friends of the Earth, said: "The UK coalition government promised that nuclear power should not get any subsidies. That was a sensible decision that recognised that time-limited subsidies should only be given to new technologies, such as wind, solar, wave and tidal, to enable them to develop, become mature and be competitive. It's time for the nuclear subsidies to stop and this legal case is a useful contribution in achieving that aim."

Dr Dörte Fouquet, the lawyer who has been leading the preparation of the complaint, said: “The European Union has opted for opening up the energy market and is vigilant about creating a level playing field. In this regard, the Commission over the last years repeatedly underlined that distortion of the market is to a large extent caused by subsidies to the incumbents in the energy sector. This complaint aims to shed some light on the recent shift in the energy policy of the United Kingdom where strong signals point to yet another set of subsidies to the nuclear power plant operators.”

“There is no justification of any kind for subsidising nuclear power,” says Dr Gerry Wolff of Energy Fair. “It is a mature technology that should be commercially viable without support. Renewables have clear advantages in cost, speed of construction, security of energy supplies, and effectiveness in cutting emissions of CO2. There are more than enough to meet our needs now and for the foreseeable future, they provide diversity in energy supplies, and they have none of the headaches of nuclear power.”

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