Economic and Social Considerations for the Future of Nuclear Energy in Society

ECOSENS Newsletter – No.1 – December 2023

Dec 30, 2023 | news

Inside the issue

  • ECOSENS first year
  • Short news from WPs
  • Deliverables and publications
  • ECOSENS engagement opportunities

ECOSENS first year

Dr. Daniela Diaconu, RATEN, ECOSENS co-ordinator

The ECOSENS project was conceived by specialists in social sciences and humanities, economics, and nuclear energy with a threefold objective:

  • to assess the public perceptions regarding new nuclear technologies (SMRs, Gen IV) in the current context marked by the effects of the climate changes and energy crisis in Europe;
  • to assess the sustainability of nuclear energy throughout its life cycle;
  • to develop a new economic model capable of offering decision-makers and investors a new perspective on the competitiveness of nuclear energy..

In the landscape of the EURATOM R&D programme, the ECOSENS project is unique as it brings together three different scientific communities, engaged in a common endeavor: to co-construct scenarios of the European energy mix that meet the EU’s goal of Net Zero Emissions by 2050 and cooperate in the evaluation of the nuclear energy as part of the European solution for climate change mitigation, security of energy supply, and affordability.

The ECOSENS consortium builds up on the findings of previous European projects (COWAM series, IPPA, EAGLE) dedicated to understanding public attitudes towards nuclear and enhancing its engagement in the implementation of nuclear investments, with the ambition to discuss and develop, together with a large number of stakeholders, solutions for the Europe’s future energy mix in, to assess from a technical, social and economic perspective the entire sustainability of the nuclear cycle and to provide policymakers and investors in nuclear with new tools and economic models.

ECOSENS implementation benefits from a well-balanced partnership of 12 European R&D institutes and universities from nuclear and non-nuclear MSs and one UK university, in which the expertise in social sciences and humanities is complemented by high-level competencies in nuclear energy and economics.

The ECOSENS project is open to anyone interested in getting involved in defining the future energy mix of our society, regardless of their attitude towards nuclear energy. A large stakeholder network has already been established, and we are happy to continuously grow it.

Workshops, webinars, and annual scientific events are planned throughout the project to enable direct exchange and pluralistic dialogue about the role of nuclear and renewables in the future electricity market and society evolution. Besides, links created on the main social media channels (LinkedIn, X, Facebook) are available to communicate with us.

The first year of the project implementation has already brought important results, briefly presented below and accesible on our webpage.

Short news from WPs

WP1 – A collaborative assessment of (imagined) energy worlds

Dr. Catrinel Turcanu, SCK CEN & Gaston Meskens, SCK CEN

WP1 deals with activities dedicated to social investigations. The actions on the societal aspects of energy futures will provide insights into the perceived risks, benefits and potentials of nuclear energy technologies, will identify challenges for the uptake of existing recommendations on stakeholder engagement in nuclear energy sector and develop practical recommendations to overcome challenges. By engaging with relevant societal stakeholders WP1 will explore and co-construct possible futures for nuclear energy taking into account ongoing energy transitions and climate change and other major societal challenges, all results feeding the assessment WPs 2&3.

In the first stage, to provide state-of-the-art knowledge and bolster WP1 research activities, a systematic literature review was conducted and answering the research question of how climate change and energy security considerations affect public attitudes towards nuclear energy. By synthesizing the existing social scientific knowledge, we concluded that public support for nuclear energy is generally negatively associated with climate change concerns and positively associated with concerns for energy security. In next stage, the investigation will focus on SMRs with a representative survey in Spain, Belgium, and Czechia, centering on the attitudes of the general public towards this technology and its commercial application. In parallel, as a part of national case studies conducted in Slovenia, Slovakia, Czechia, the UK, Spain, and Belgium, we explore the views and perceptions around SMRs qualitatively by employing focus group discussions with the public and stakeholders. This is complemented by an extensive desk research compiling relevant information on SMRs in country-specific contexts. The methodology was developed to investigate current recommendations on nuclear governance and stakeholders engagement, and actual uptake and impact of stakeholder engagement recommendations in the nuclear field.

What energy future do we desire? What energy future is possible? These questions were the point of departure of the first ECOSENS International workshop that took place in Brussels on 29 March 2023 as part of Task 1.4. Twenty participants coming from a wide variety of backgrounds (academic, civil society, policy) discussed the art and science of imagining energy futures. In a first discussion round, participants focused on what worldviews and values are behind imagined energy futures and which artefacts (storylines, narratives, concepts, images, symbols, models, ) we use to express these imaginations. In a second round, participants discussed the deliberative character of sustainability assessment, with a focus on how to translate worldviews and values into formal assessment approaches. In a final plenary discussion round, participants and moderators looked back on the day and reflected on first lessons learned. An extended report of the workshop is available on the ECOSENS website.

WP2 – Assessment of the sustainability of the whole cycle of nuclear power  

Dr. Marin Constantin, RATEN

A methodology aimed to perform a comparative analysis of the sustainability performances for different energy generation technologies, with a focus on nuclear and renewables was developed. It is devoted to a better understanding of economic, environmental, and social/ethical aspects of the entire life cycle of energy technologies. In ECOSENS project it will be applied only for current nuclear systems, but the integration of Gen III+, IV, and SMR was explored in the context of the future energy market and societal developments. The assessment is structured into three areas: (1) Environmental life cycle assessment, (2) Economic life cycle assessment, (3) Social life cycle assessment with the following High-Level Objectives: Contribution to planetary wellbeing, Reliability and resilience of supply, Social feasibility. A set of 32 indicators (10, 9, and respectively 13) was selected based on the experts’ opinion and contribution from the stakeholders. For some of them, sub-indicators are defined to assist the evaluator to include all the details needed for a complete and fair assessment, in total 42 sub-indicators. A weighting process was developed to assign relative importance for areas/indicators/sub-indicators, according with the vision of the policy-makers, experts, and stakeholders. Due to the peculiarity of stakeholder’s involvement in the assessment itself, a set of synthetic fiches was produced describing the indicators and sub-indicators and supplying the main data and knowledge resulted from the literature.

Another part of the work was devoted to identifying the possible roles of nuclear power in the mid-century and beyond. The energy transition involves structural changes in the European economy, extending beyond the energy sector, and new types of technologies to be developed and implemented. The strategies will impact society, either through the direct effects of technology use or indirectly through changes in patterns of consumption, daily behaviours, choices, and attitudes. Furthermore, these radical changes will have an impact on the environment, beyond a pure focus on climate change. The work is structured in four major parts: Assumptions for the medium and long term, Driving factors and obstacles, Impact of disruptive technologies, and Impact of different crisis.

Based on these elements a plausible set of energy scenarios was developed to understand the possible role of nuclear power in the European energy mix at the horizon of 2050: Nuclear Status Quo (unchanged pace of nuclear development, not much influenced by an acceleration of renewables), Nuclear Phase-Out (no new nuclear project, progressive phase-out), Nuclear and Renewables Synergy (nuclear to support accelerated implementation of renewables), and Nuclear Renaissance (nuclear accelerated by the new reactor technologies). A discussion on the plausibility of these four scenarios was achieved, followed by the construction of the narrative of each scenario. 

WP3 – A System of Provision approach for nuclear power

Dr. Giorgio Locatelli, POLIMI

Objectives of WP3 are to derive a new novel model based on the System of Provision (SoP) approach to create and calculate indicators relevant for variety of stakeholders (e.g. consumers, governments, suppliers), to create a framework to calculate and apply the Social Discount Rate for a socio-economic analysis in the energy sector and to enhance the SoP model to include the limits of the planet, as reflected in the circular economy. In the first year the deliverable D3.1 on Systematic review of literature about the System of Provision (SoP) approach and models was developed and is now in the process to be published in the journal Renewable and sustainable energy reviews. The SoP approach offers a new perspective on the relationship between socio-technical systems (e.g. electricity, food, transportation) and nuclear energy, including its tangible (e.g., power plants) and intangible (e.g., culture, workforce education) elements. Multiple case studies in several EU countries will be implemented by SoP based on the developed framework. To create a new model based on the SoP for a socio-economic analysis in the nuclear energy sector, also a systematic literature review of Social Discount Rate was performed which will be used for overall framework. The deliverable D3.2 SoP Model Minimum viable is now in the internal review.

The focus of activities in the second year will be to define overall framework based on literature review, implementation of case studies and transfer of knowledge from other cases. 

Deliverables and publications

Deliverables are available on ECOSENS website:

M.Constantin et al., 2023, Assumptions, models, and methodology for the development of nuclear energy in EU, on the next two decades, D2.1, http://dx.doi.org/DOI:10.20348/STOREDB/1183

The ECOSENS project includes an assessment of the sustainability performance of nuclear electric power generation for the entire life cycle considering the current development of nuclear technologies. Evolutions of the energy market in the transition toward climate neutrality are also investigated in order to discuss the role of the nuclear power in the medium and long term. This deliverable is devoted to presentation of three identified methodologies and development of a new methodology which relates to the three pillars of sustainability (economic development, social development, environmental protection) through Entire Life Cycle Assessment.

  1. Constantin, 2023, Analysis of impact of societal and technological changes on the future energy market, D2.2, http://dx.doi.org/DOI:10.20348/STOREDB/1184/1271

The deliverable is devoted to investigation of the possible medium and long-term changes in the society and energy sector in order to create a basis for the identification of the possible roles of nuclear energy. The structure consists of four main chapters: Assumptions for the medium and long term, Driving factors and obstacles, Impact of disruptive technologies, and Impact of different crisis.

  1. Constantin et al., 2023, Scenarios for climate neutral sector based on nuclear new technologies and variable renewables, D2.3, http://dx.doi.org/DOI:10.20348/STOREDB/1185/1272

In this deliverable, a set of scenarios for nuclear power development in the European Union at the horizon of 2050 was developed, based on the previous ECOSENS investigation of energy demand, existing policies for decarbonization, and impact of societal and technological changes on the future energy market. The key steps of the methodology for scenarios building are: identification of key drivers, defining the alternative scenarios, checking the plausibility and consistency, narrative construction.

Several other publications from ECOSENS events are also available on ECOSENS website:

ECOSENS engagement opportunities

Dr. Nadja Železnik, EIMV

WP4- Communication, dissemination and exploitation of results

In ECOSENS project we established different engagement opportunities for the related and interested stakeholders to take part. For workshops in the project we usually publish open invitation on our website and other social media for all interested. The results for the first three workshops are presented in the document folder.  Once a year Scientific Events are organized and are focusing on the presentation of the project ongoing results in order to discuss the findings and obtain the feedback, comments and suggestions from participants. The activities are published in the News section and disseminated on the social media. All interested are also invited to subscript for more information, like Newsletter issues.

New opportunities for engagement are already known:

New ECOSENS deliverables available

Three new ECOSENS deliverables  representing the complete package of documents necessary for the assessment of the sustainability of nuclear energy to be carried out in the project are now available on the project webpage.They are reporting on: the methodology...

An ECOSENS Stakeholder Webinar Report is available

The ECOSENS project  continued stakeholder discussions this summer with consideration of the major drivers of energy demand. A webinar (as well as a short discussion at the ECOSENS Scientific Event) critically examined project assumptions on the state of energy demand...

First ECOSENS public event

The first ECOSENS Scientific Event entitled “Powering the Future Responsibly: Assessing the Sustainability of Nuclear Energy” was held on August 29 2023 in Dessel, Belgium back to back with RICOMET conference. It focused on the ECOSENS sustainability assessment...