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News article13 March 2024Directorate-General for Energy4 min read

In focus: EU nuclear energy policy – why it matters to us all


Nuclear power generated just over a fifth (21.8%) of the EU’s electricity in 2022, with 12 EU countries currently including it in their energy mix. The EU remains technologically neutral when it comes to energy sources – meaning the decision of where to supply energy from is for each EU country to take. However, in one way or another, EU nuclear energy policy is relevant to all citizens across the EU. Cooperation in this field is regulated by the Euratom Treaty and Euratom secondary legislation.

Nuclear safety 

Nuclear safety is of the utmost importance for the deployment of nuclear energy.

The EU is a global leader on nuclear safety. The Euratom safety framework requires EU countries to give the highest priority to nuclear safety at all stages of the lifecycle of a nuclear installation, including nuclear power plants. This ranges from safety assessments before the construction of new power plants to the safe and responsible management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, and the decommissioning of shutdown installations as part of the final stage of their lifecycle.

Another important pillar of the Euratom safety framework is the Basic Safety Standards Directive ensuring that EU countries implement the highest level of protection for those working in environments with ionising radiation, members of the public being exposed to ionising radiation and patients undergoing medical diagnosis and treatment using ionising radiation. 

Countries wishing to join the EU are also required to transpose the Euratom legal framework into their national legislation, as part of the accession process.

Nuclear safeguards

Beyond ensuring the safe operation of nuclear energy facilities, it is absolutely critical that civil nuclear materials (such as those used for energy and medical treatments) are not diverted from their intended uses. For this reason, the Euratom Treaty establishes a nuclear material supervision system known as Euratom Safeguards, which complies with the nuclear safeguards obligations assumed by the Euratom Community under the relevant international agreements.

All users of nuclear material in the EU must provide information on their installations, and report on the flows and inventories of nuclear materials. The Commission then analyses the declared information and carries out on-site inspections to verify the accuracy of the reported information.

Banner showing 3 icons. the first shows a document with a nuclear symbol being ticked. the second shows the document being checked with a magnifying glass. the third shows a worker wearing a hard hat at a nuclear power plant with a magnifying glass.

To ensure that Euratom Safeguards remain up to date with the latest technological and scientific developments, in December 2023, the Commission proposed to update and replace the current Euratom Safeguards Regulation, dating from 2005. It is now for the Council of the EU to approve the Commission’s proposal.

Nuclear technology in medicine

Another aspect of nuclear energy policy, which is also very relevant to citizens across the EU, is the medical application of nuclear technologies, particularly in the fight against cancer.

Nuclear and radiation technologies have significantly contributed to improving cancer treatment and care for Europeans in recent decades. The Strategic Agenda for Medical Ionising Radiation Applications (SAMIRA), adopted in 2021, is the energy sector’s contribution to Europe's Beating Cancer Plan.

'The COVID pandemic reminded us all of the importance of health and the need to do everything we can to increase the wellbeing of our citizens. Safe medical use of radiological and nuclear technology is a highly useful tool in our arsenal and is already benefitting hundreds of millions of patients across Europe. The SAMIRA action plan will ensure that the EU continues to be the global leader in supplying medical radioisotopes and developing radiological diagnostics and treatments, while applying the highest quality and safety standards.'

Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson

The SAMIRA action plan aims to support the safe, high-quality and reliable use of radiological and nuclear technology in medicine through 3 strands: knowledge and expertise of medical professionals, research and security of supply.

Small Modular Reactors

While remaining technologically neutral, the Commission recognises the potential of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as an emerging low-carbon technology, which EU countries may choose to include in their energy-mix. In this regard, it is committed to facilitating their safe development in Europe.

SMRs are smaller than traditional reactors and have a maximum output of 300 Megawatt electric (MWe). They require less cooling water and offer greater flexibility in terms of site selection than large-size nuclear power plants. SMRs are factory-assembled and can be produced and transported to a site efficiently and cost-effectively and they are particularly well-suited to be integrated into energy systems with other energy sources, like renewables and hydrogen. SMRs offer a prospective to replace existing fossil fuel plants, and in parallel offer new opportunities in terms of developing a highly skilled workforce in the EU. More information about SMRs is available in the SMRs explained fact page.

The Commission established a European Industrial Alliance on SMRs and launched a call for membership on 9 February 2024 to accelerate their deployment and ensure a strong EU supply chain, including a skilled workforce. Facilitating the roll-out of SMRs in this way will contribute to ensuring that the EU maintains its global leadership in decarbonisation and energy transition.

'We want this Alliance to deliver benefits in very practical terms - through full engagement on nuclear safety, using European supply chains, and by boosting innovation for new technologies.'

Commissioner Kadri Simson

The Commission’s contribution to the development of SMRs takes place in the wider context of fresh impetus being given to the potential of nuclear energy to contribute towards the global energy transition.

On 21 March 2024, world leaders will meet in Brussels for the first ever Nuclear Energy Summit, the highest-level meeting ever to take place exclusively on the topic of nuclear energy. The event will be co-chaired by the Belgian Prime Minister and the Director General for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The following day, the European Commission together with EU nuclear industry organise the European Industrial Alliance on SMR dissemination event in Brussels aiming to confirm industry’s interest in joining the Alliance and promote the membership to stakeholders.

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Publication date
13 March 2024
Directorate-General for Energy