Once hearalded as Europe's salvation from Arab oil bondage, the European Economic Community's nuclear energy program has run into serious snags because of growing public opposition and erratic nuclear fuel shipment from the United States.
American officials claim that enriched uranium deliveries to the Common Market have been snarled by licensing problems, but some Europeans feel that the interruptions amount to political pressure on France and West Germany to cancel their sales of nuclear technology to Pakistan and Brazil.
To make up for the drop in U.S. supplies of enriched uranium, the Europeans have turned increasingly to the world's other major producer, the Soviet Union. This year, the Cmmon Market expect to satisfy at least 40 per cent of its nuclear fuel needs with the Societ product.
Common Market energy experts insist that the sudden reliance on Soviet enriched uranium is temporary and will fade when Europe's won nuclear fuel industries reach maturity in the early 1980s.
For now, however, it seems as though "Europe is really subject to two OPECs - one for oil and one for nuclear fuel supplies," one energy official here said.
Two years ago, the nine Common Market countries announced plans to cut their dependence on imported energy from 65 per cent to 40 per cent by 1985, mainly by tripling production from nuclear power stations.
But delays in construction of nuclear plants have dampened thosse hopes, and common market nations will still need to import 55 per cent of their energy supplies in 1985, according tot he market's energy commissioner, Guido Brunner.
In addition, a bid to raise $600 million in loans to finance EEC nuclear plants have been vetoed by Britain, which refuses to grant its approval until the other member countries agree to a minimum oil price of $7 per barrel. Britain claims such a guarantee is necessary to protect its heavy investment in North Sea oil production.
Nuclear-powered plants generate about 5 per cent of electricity produced in the European community. The EEC's orighinal target was 13 per nuclear energy will never supply more than 9 per cent of electricity production because of protest movements and nuclear fuel production problems. There are now 49 power-generating reactors in operation, with 64 others under construction or on order.
Brunner has called for public hearings to be held soon throughout Europe on the nuclear issue, particularly to resolve questions about safety and the disposal of radioactive waste, which worry people the most.
If public concern were allayed and new nuclear facilities rapidly built, energy experts here say that Europe's nuclear program would still face its most critical long-term problem - the future supply of natural uranium.
A Common Market report estimates that unless Australia increases it uranium mining capacity significantly, "by 1985, available natural uranium will be insufficient to cover even minimum European requirements."
With virtually no uranium supplies of their own, Common Market countries are also worried that the United States might be competing with Europe and Japan to buy uranium in the world market, inflating prices even further.
Speculators have driven the cost of natur al uranium up to $40 a pound from a price of about $6 three years ago.
The Common Market buys much of its natural uranium - which it then turns over to the United States or the Soviet Union for enrichment into nuclear fuel - from Canada. Sout Africa and several former French colonies notably Gabon, are also key suppliers.