The Common Market Commission, in an effort to reduce Europe's dependence on outside fuel suppliers, intends to push for urgent development of fast breeder and reprocessing technology.
Rejecting President Carter's advice to shun breeder reactors in an effort to restrict nuclear proliferation, the Commision said in a statement today that the European Economic Community must build such plants to cope with an expected world shortage of uranium in the 1980s and the lack of space in Europe to store nuclear waste.
"The Community cannot afford to throw away spent nuclear fuel which can be reprocessed and reused in advanced types of reactors such as fast breeders," the EEC Commission noted in a statement explaining its nuclear strategy.
The Community's nine member countries now import 80 per cent of their uranium supplies, which have been subject to nagging delivery delays in the past from the United States and Canada. By the year 2,000, the European Community will account for one-third of total world demand for uranium, so the Commission hopes to bolster construction of fast breeder plants to cut Europe's dependence of foreign sources of uranium and oil.
The EEC's nuclear energy branch, Euratom, has concluded that there are adequate safeguards for storing and recycling plutonium, a highly lethal element extracted from spent uranium, which can be used to make bombs as well as to fuel nuclear power plants. Breeder reactors produce more plutonium than they absorb, a fact that has raised a controversy over their use.
Euratom contends that building four or five nuclear strongholds in member countries would accommodate European needs for nuclear waste disposal and plutonium storage.
"Such joint reprocessing facilities would be subject to strict controls by Euratom and would help toward the general aim of avoiding the proliferation of potentially dangerous nuclear material. These regional centers would also simplify the security problems of countering theft and sabotage," the EEC Commission statement said.
Euratom officials believe breeder and reprocessing plants could trim the EEC's annual uranium import requirements by up to 20 per cent starting in the late 1980s. In the long term, such technology could assure "virtual freedom from dependency on external supplies."
The EEC Commission plans to increase the number of joint nuclear ventures within the European Community, like the giant 1,200-megawatt "Superphenix" fast breeder reactor built in Creys-Malville in France by a consortium of French, German and Italian companies, France, West Germany and a group of other EEC members signed agreements July 5 for a joint venture to develop and market fast-breeder reactors.
Most nuclear specialists acknowledge that France has the most sophisticated fast breeder technology. By merging its expertise with West Germany industrial and financial strength, the European Community hopes to extensify nuclear research and development.
French and West German atomic energy agencies agreed recently to increase research funds for breeder technology.
West Germany, in cooperation with Belgium and The Netherlands, is constructing its own fast breeder prototype at Kalkar along the Dutch border. Britain already has a 250-megawatt fast breeder plant in operation at Dounreay, Scotland.
Conscious of the hazards posed by growing amounts of plutonium generated by fast breeder reactors, the EEC Commissions said that reprocessing plants will diminish the bulk of nuclear waste and ease security problems.
"Radiological risks for future generations might be greater if reprocessing were not undertaken. In that case, the plutonium would remain in the spent fuel elements and its storage would be a long term risk," the Commission paper said.
The EEC nuclear strategy involves establishing five centers for nuclear waste disposal by the end of the century. Euratom also plans to study nuclear processes that would preclude diversion of materials into weapons manufacturing, a concept the U.S. administration wants explored on a global basis.