All commercial nuclear reactors use nuclear fission. There are currently 8 power reactors under construction in Europe. Today, approximately half of the countries in the EU generate nuclear energy. France has the most operable nuclear reactors, followed by Belgium and Spain.
These countries could increase power generation from existing reactors relatively quickly because most reactors normally do not operate at full capacity. This was one of the solutions proposed by the International Energy Agency to reduce European dependence on Russian natural gas. There are 106 operable nuclear reactors in the EU. Some reactors are being dismantled, others are extending their useful life, and several new units are being planned or built.
In addition to power reactors, a full range of fuel cycle plants (from enrichment to waste storage and recycling) are in operation in Europe. It is the responsibility of each EU Member State to decide its preferred choice of energy combination. Currently, 13 of the 27 EU Member States use nuclear energy for power generation. Nuclear energy currently generates just over a quarter of all electricity in the EU.
A number of countries, including those with nuclear power plants, have expanded their nuclear power generation capacity simply by upgrading existing reactors. The Russian capture of Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, in southern Ukraine, has attracted widespread condemnation after fighting was reported in the vicinity of the nuclear reactor. Countries against the expansion of nuclear energy, including Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal, have expressed concern about the disposal of nuclear waste and the risks of an accident. The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) laid the foundations for nuclear energy in Europe in 1957.The European Commission proposes a stress test for all nuclear power plants in Europe, to demonstrate that the nuclear fleet can withstand incidents such as those in Fukushima.
The European Commission is ready to decide later this year whether to classify nuclear energy as a clean energy source; if it does, it could boost investment in nuclear energy across the region, experts say. Despite its heavy dependence on nuclear energy, Slovakia only operates four plants, demonstrating how effective nuclear energy can be. It is therefore essential that European society and economy prevent any nuclear accident from occurring in the European Union by ensuring the highest possible quality of regulatory oversight and nuclear safety standards in each and every EU Member State. Reprocessing involves recovering fissionable and fertile materials from nuclear fuel used to provide MOX fuel to nuclear power plants.
Although plutonium is commonly associated with nuclear weapons, plutonium extracted with reprocessing is not suitable for “classic” nuclear weapons.