European nuclear plants are getting older


of the European reactors are older than 30 years

In March 2014, 3 years after the Fukushima nuclear tragedy, we still live in a world where our 25 oldest nuclear reactors have been operating for more than 35 years, even though we know that after 30 years, their safety cannot be guaranteed. With European nuclear reactors averaging 29 years old, we should be approaching a massive wave of decommissionings.

Rather than decommissioning at full term, their lifetime is being extended.


of the European reactors should be shut in the next 5 years

3 reactors have already passed their planned lifetime. In response to this problem of ageing, some countries choose to extend plant lifetimes , despite what is known about the effects of ageing reactors on the global safety.

In the meantime, their output is pushed beyond the limits


of our reactors operate above the design power

The increase of the maximum power level at which a commercial nuclear power plant may operate, called Plant Power Uprate, compromises safety even more especially as the reactors with an extended lifetime are often the ones that also receive a power uprate. To increase the power output of a reactor, typically an operator will refuel the reactor either with slightly more enriched uranium fuel or a higher percentage of new fuel. The power uprate forces the reactor to produce more thermal energy which produces more steam and water pressure, but this implies that components such as pipes, valves or pumps must be able to withstand tougher conditions, for which they were not designed.

Getting older mechanically means increasing failures

+ 50 %

of « significant events » between 2000 and 2006 vs + 11% between 1986 and 2000

As our nuclear plants get older, the number of failures and accidents grows. The schematic diagram of the “bathtub curve” shows the typical life cycle of a reactor. At the beginning of the operation, a lot of unexpected failures happen but operators can manage to fix them after a certain time. Then begins an optimum operational period in which the rate of failures is stable and controlled. But because of the effects of ageing, a tipping point is soon passed and the failure rate increases again, exponentially.

Risks are linked to a physical ageing


of the failures due to ageing concern almost irreplaceable components

Mechanical components are the most susceptible to failure due to ageing. But they are also the most difficult to replace. This is particularly true for the reactor pressure vessel, which cannot be replaced yet at the same time is the most stressed element in a reactor.If a weakened reactor pressure vessel were to have a flaw of critical size, this could unexpectedly rapidly deteriorate into a through-wall crack and challenge the very integrity of the reactor pressure vessel.

Risks also come from human ageing


of the executives in the nuclear field are eligible for retirement in the next 5 years

The workforce in a nuclear power plant is hired 5 years before the start of operations and is extremely faithful (very low turn-over rate). As a consequence, the major part of the employees will work in the same plant their whole career. Because 80% of our 437 reactors are above 15 years old, we now have a majority of employees with more than 20 years of experience, the youngest being in their 40s. We are at the beginning of a massive retirement wave, while recruitment is almost non-existent and the proportion of temporary workers is on the increase . Thus the technical expertise acquired since the first weeks of the plant, and knowledge of its conception and design are not passed on.

Refitting is expensive and useless for safety

420$ /kW

it’s the average cost of a plant extension lifetime

Refitting (when possible) allows in the best case to get back to the safety level agreed on during the design of the plant,but it is not sufficient to reach new safety standards levels, based on lessons learned from accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and on scientific and technological progress.

Risks are amplified by external factors


of the plants at risk of flooding or earthquake are above 30

The work that has been initiated with the post-Fukushima “stress tests” is far from imagining the unimaginable. Actually, our nuclear installations are very vulnerable when it comes to external risks, either natural or human. For example, no nuclear power station operating today can withstand the impact of a large passenger aircraft. Designed before 11 September 2001 they did not even take into account the possibility of such a case.

Building new nuclear power plants is not a solution

+ 2 Bn €

it’s the additional cost of the new French EPR reactor as announced in december 2012

The total estimate is now around 8.5 billion euros, taking into account the inflation, mostly because of the delayed construction. The intended costs for this “3rd generation” reactor had already doubled, from 3.3 to 6 billion euros.

Radioactive waste would keep on piling up


of waste if we extend the lifetime of our plants until 2030

5 300 m3 of highly radioactive waste, from the reactor core and still impossible to eliminate, would remain dangerous for thousands of years.

Despite the urgency of the situation, European states don’t make any clear decisions


countries have an active policy to stop their nuclear production

Only 2 countries have an active policy to stop their nuclear production

Yes, we can replace nuclear power, step by step


Nuclear energy could be totally phased out in Europe by 2040 at the very latest

Change takes time, but we have to make good political decisions right now to gradually phase out nuclear power generation.

Some organizations have established reliable and precise scenarios and all of them imply the closing of all the nuclear reactors, while decreasing in CO2 emissions and without covering landscapes with windmills. This approach is based on 3 principles: energy savings, efficiency and renewables. It is possible!

An energy revolution economically efficient and smart


The savings made in 2050 thanks to renewable energies could cover twice the necessary investments if we start now.

On average, the transition planned by the Greenpeace / EREC Energy [R]evolution Scenario would cost each year, until 2050, $99 Bn. But because renewable energies do not cost anything in terms of fuel, savings would reach $75 Bn per year. If we consider the evolution of the cost of energy, then the investment will be totally offset.


Join the Beluga during her ship tour !

A 2 months ship tour along the Rhine and Mosel river. During the tour  the Beluga will stop in 14 European cities in Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Germany to raise awareness about risks of ageing nuclear power plants in Europe. On each stop, we will welcome people onboard  to inform, to debate,  to take action …

Join us !
On board or  On line !





























Come on board !

The Beluga II  is a  Greenpeace ship since 2004 . This year, she is doing  Tour on the Rhine and Moselle, across  Europe to  inform citizens about the  risks of aging nuclear reactors.

  • 20-21 May 2014

    Stop of the Beluga in Mainz

Executive summary




Nearly three years on from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the 25 oldest nuclear reactors in Europe have all passed 35 years of operation. More than two-thirds of US nuclear reactors have received extended licences permitting 60 years of operation, far beyond their original design lifetimes. We are entering a new era of nuclear risk.

At the time of writing (January 2014) the average age of European nuclear reactors has reached 29 years. An increasing number are reaching their design lifetimes of 30 or 40 years. New nuclear reactor construction in the EU is not capable of replacing all the reactors that are approaching the end of their design lifetimes, and the Fukushima disaster acted as a brake on new build programmes. Nevertheless we are seeing an increasing demand for new strategies to avoid a phase-out of nuclear energy, especially in countries that have not developed viable alternatives.

The current strategy of nuclear operators in much of Europe, including Switzerland, Ukraine and Russia, is targeted at a combination of extension of reactor lifetime (also called Long Term Operation) and power uprating. These factors taken together may have an important impact on the safety of the operational reactor fleet in Europe.

The design lifetime is the period of time during which a facility or component is expected to perform according to the technical specifications to which it was produced. Life-limiting processes include an excessive number of reactor trips and load cycle exhaustion. Physical ageing of systems, structures and components is paralleled by technological and conceptual ageing, because existing reactors allow for only limited retroactive implementation of new technologies and safety concepts. Together with ‘soft’ factors such as outmoded organisational structures and the loss of staff know-how and motivation as employees retire, these factors cause the overall safety level of older reactors to become increasingly inadequate by modern standards.

Measures to uprate a reactor’s power output can further compromise safety margins, for instance because increased thermal energy production results in an increased output of steam and cooling water, leading to greater stresses on piping and heat exchange systems, so exacerbating ageing mechanisms. Modifications necessitated by power uprating may additionally introduce new potential sources of failure due to adverse interactions between new and old equipment. Thus, both lifetime extension and power uprating decrease a plant’s originally designed safety margins and increase the risk of failures.



© Greenpeace – 2014

Creation and development

Photos credits
Tihange – Alain Vincent/Greenpeace 

Take action


I do not accept the risk I’m forced to live with, and I ask for a strong and deep political change.

Take action

I urge European leaders to :

– Phase out nuclear power and promote the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Because we need to address the climate change issue. Because this Energy Revolution is mandatory and feasible.

– Decommission all nuclear reactors that are older than their initially design lifetime.

– The level of technical risk reduction of operating nuclear reactors should be oriented on best available technologies (BAT). Reactors that do not meet this level should be closed. And I call on nuclear regulators not to grant any lifetime extension beyond that time.

– As a citizen entitled to, I ask for a full transparency and full public participation in the form of a (transboundary) Strategic Environmental Assessment for national energy trategies that contain life-time extension of old nuclear reactors; and in the form of a
(transboundary) Environmental Impact Assessment for all life-time extension decisions for old nuclear reactors.

– The independence of nuclear regulators should be better guaranteed and feedback mechanisms in the form of full transparency and public participation should be fully implemented to hedge against potential pressure on nuclear safety by economic and political interests.

– The challenge right now is to tackle climate change and increase energy security. Europe needs to phase out nuclear power and promote the development of renewable power and energy efficiency. To achieve that, EU governments should set binding European and national targets for renewables of 45% by 2030 as well as cut carbon emissions by at least 55% and to improve energy efficiency by 40%

The ageing nuclear fleet puts citizens increasingly at risk.
And I refuse to accept it.

Tihange NPP Alain Vincent/Greenpeace
Graveline NPPGreenpeace
Muhleberg NPPGreenpeace
Tihange NPP Greenpeace

For decades, people in Europe have had to live with dangerous nuclear power plants in their countries. Most of them having been built without any citizens consultation. Today, these power plants are getting old, very old: initially built to last 30 years, some governments or companies would like to extend their life up to 40 or even 60 years. But such life extensions would  plunge us into a new era of risk. You are about to enter a new era of risks with old nuclear power plants, but you do not have to accept it.

Politicians and  governments have decided to put you at risk, you do not have to accept it!

Take the tour Take action

1 — Ageing NPPs

2 — A new era of risks

3 — What about tomorrow ?