Splitting the atom, splitting opinion?

The energy transition calls for diligent decision-making on the role of nuclear energy. Over the coming years, this issue will be the subject of public and political debate. What aspects should be considered as part of this process?

Background and request for advice

Over the coming years, the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) is anticipating a political and public debate on the organisation of our future energy system and the possible role of nuclear energy within it. Decisions in this area will need to be taken diligently and be future-proof to avoid putting the 2050 climate targets at risk.

The advisory report does not address the question of whether new nuclear power stations should or should not be built, but instead focuses on how best to conduct the public debate on this topic.

The main question addressed in the report is: What considerations must be made when deciding on a possible role for new nuclear power stations within the carbon-neutral energy system that the Netherlands will have to realise in the near future? And what recommendations can be made based on this for the reflection process and the exchange of views that the government and parliament must undertake before decisions are made?

Explanatory notes

The coalition agreement of the fourth Rutte government includes an agreement to support the construction of two new nuclear power stations. Within Dutch society, opinions are very much split on the use of nuclear energy within our future energy system. However, the Rli has also noted that five values are considered important within the context of the debate and the decision-making process: energy supply certainty, affordability, safety and security, sustainability and justice. At the moment, these values are not being sufficiently considered in the discussion about our energy system and the possible use of nuclear energy within it. To allow choices to be made within and between these values, a technical assessment is needed and ethical issues have to be considered. Consequently, there should be greater scope for ethical reflection during the debate and the decision-making process.

Taking the five values as a basis, the advisory report provides an overview of relevant knowledge that is needed to make considerations, drawing on factual information available in the literature. Before this in-depth examination of the subject matter, the report also illustrates what Dutch people think about the future role of nuclear energy and what arguments they use.

To allow the debate to be conducted effectively, the Rli recommends as follows:

  • Policy choices on the role of nuclear energy should not be taken in isolation, but should be incorporated into the choices relating to the energy system as a whole.
  • Before such choices are made, factual knowledge must be enhanced in relation to four specific points and the debate should then be focused on seven policy questions.
  • There should be clarity about the technical and ethical trade-offs that the government and parliament have made when interpreting the five values.
  • Citizens should be involved explicitly in the debate on this subject, in a manner that goes beyond the public participation procedures required by law. In principle, the Rli considers a citizens’ assembly to be a suitable form of civic participation when it comes to making choices about our country’s future energy system and the possible role of nuclear energy within it. The Council therefore supports the proposal made by Minister Jetten to look into the role that a citizens’ assembly could play.

Date of publication and public meeting

The advisory report was handed over to the Minister for Climate and Energy Policy, Rob Jetten, on 7 September 2022. During the meeting various panel members expressed their views on the advisory report’s key message and the main issues requiring further debate.

More information

For more information about the advisory report or the meeting, please contact Bas Waterhout, project manager, bas.waterhout@rli.nl, tel: +31 (0)6 21178802