France first: Ten EU countries are calling for nuclear power to be classified as green energy
A group of ten EU countries, led by France, has asked the European Commission to recognize nuclear energy as a low-carbon energy source. The technology is intended to contribute to the EU’s transition to climate neutrality, which has been planned for decades.
In view of the ongoing energy crisis in Europe, ten EU countries wrote to Brussels in favor of nuclear energy as an “important affordable, stable and independent energy source” that could protect EU consumers from “being exposed to price fluctuations”. The document, initiated by France, was sent to the EU Commission with the signature of nine other EU countries, most of which already include nuclear energy in their national energy mix: Bulgaria, Finland, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Nuclear power plants generate over 26 percent of the electricity produced in the European Union. “The rise in energy prices has also shown the importance of reducing our energy dependence on third countries as quickly as possible,” the letter reads. Over 90 percent of the natural gas in the EU is imported from abroad, with Russia being the main producer. For the signatories of the letter, this appears to be one of the main factors behind the rise in energy prices. They write:
“Supply outages will occur more and more frequently, and we have no choice but to diversify our supply. We should be careful not to increase our dependence on energy imports from outside Europe.”
The signatories call on the Commission to include nuclear energy in the EU’s green taxonomy. This is a technical guide to help governments and investors determine which projects comply with the Paris Agreement and which violate its climate targets. Activities that fall under the taxonomy must make a “substantial contribution” to at least one environmental objective of EU climate policy and at the same time avoid significant damage to one of the other objectives. In addition, projects that fall under the taxonomy must meet a minimum level of social guarantees.
France versus Germany
The Commission has already included an extensive catalog of sectors such as solar, geothermal, hydrogen, wind, hydropower and bioenergy in the guide. When Brussels presented the taxonomy in April, however, one sector was missing: nuclear energy. Despite the self-set goal of tackling climate change, member states are still unable to reach consensus on whether nuclear energy is a green or a dirty source of energy. The Commission has postponed the important decision to allow the countries to close the debate.
On the one hand, Germany, which plans to shut down all of its reactors by 2022, is leading the anti-nuclear movement along with Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain. “We are concerned that the inclusion of nuclear energy in the taxonomy would permanently damage its integrity, credibility and thus its usefulness,” wrote the federal states under the leadership of Germany in July .
On the other hand, France, which gets over 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants, is fighting for nuclear power to be classified as sustainable under the taxonomy. As the new letter shows, Paris has the support of several eastern states that have already allocated millions to nuclear projects. “While renewable energy sources play a key role in our energy transition, they cannot produce enough low-carbon electricity to meet our needs in a sufficient and constant manner,” says the letter, in which nuclear energy is considered a “safer and more innovative” sector that has the potential to retain one million highly skilled jobs “in the near future”.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s energy policy is what he calls an “both-and” strategy. He wants to build new, small nuclear power plants (SMR), but at the same time renewable energies are to be expanded. However, the mini-reactors are not yet ready for production. A single model is currently running in Russia. In addition, French industry shows little interest in the small reactors, as they produce relatively little electricity and cannot replace conventional nuclear power plants.