France is leading a campaign to put nuclear energy at the heart of EU climate plans, revealing a divide in Europe over the future of atom splitting.
A decision is looming in Brussels as to whether nuclear power will be classified as a sustainable fuel, putting it in a menu of climate-friendly options that investors will be encouraged to choose from.
Ministers from 10 countries, including nuclear-dependent France, weighed on one side of the debate this week with a letter to EU leaders saying atomic energy “must be part of the solution”.
President Emmanuel Macron took advantage of the launch of his France 2030 agenda to call for a new generation of nuclear reactors, funded by 1 billion euros ($ 1.16 billion) of public money.
Proponents of nuclear power say it is reliable, carbon-free and reduces Europe’s dependence on imported energy at a time when gas prices are skyrocketing.
But the fission has a lot of criticism in Europe, especially in Germany, which was scared by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 by closing all its factories by next year.
Austria opposes nuclear power and has pressured its neighbors, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to shut down plants near its borders. Belgium plans to turn its back on nuclear power by 2025.
France, on the other hand, produces most of its electricity from its 56 nuclear power plants, and Mr Macron has put fuel at the heart of his modernization plans.
“The number one objective is to develop innovative small nuclear reactors in France by 2030, with better waste management,” he declared.
“We’re in luck – it’s our historical model, the country’s nuclear facilities are already in place. “
EU Green List
While Mr. Macron is building reactors at home, French ministers are pushing abroad for Europe to approve nuclear.
The EU decision will not dictate whether or not countries can use nuclear power, which is a matter for national governments.
But its inclusion on the green list would indicate that companies should consider investing in nuclear power – especially as some will have to disclose how far they are from ordering in the EU’s green brochure.
This is important politically, because a nod of approval from Brussels would strengthen pro-nuclear governments like France, said Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, energy expert at the Jacques Delors Institute.
“Most of the interests from the point of view of the French government are political,” he said. The National. “It’s not that including nuclear as a green investment would really help them economically.
“The biggest benefit would be that they could use that to say, wow, we have scientific proof that nuclear is green. “
Less controversial items such as wind power are already on the list, known as the EU taxonomy. A decision on nuclear has been delayed, but is expected soon.
The test is whether nuclear power does “no significant damage”, but different countries disagree on whether this is the case.
Nuclear power plants produce few CO2 emissions which will be at the center of the COP26 summit. But they generate radioactive waste that lasts for tens of thousands of years. There is always a risk of an accident like Chernobyl or Fukushima.
Pro-nuclear countries such as France, Poland and Hungary say the industry is heavily regulated and has proven to be safe in Europe for many decades.
In their letter this week, they described nuclear power plants as a stable source of energy that creates jobs and strengthens Europe’s energy independence.
“Nuclear power must be treated on an equal footing with all other low-carbon energy sources,” they said. “To win the climate battle, we need nuclear power. It is, for all of us, a crucial and reliable asset for a low carbon future.
Nuclear power plants produced around a quarter of the EU’s electricity in 2019, although only 13 of the 27 countries have operational reactors.
Among them, Germany, which still has six factories in operation. Half will be extinct this year, with the last three scheduled to close in 2022.
In a position paper in March, Germany’s Environment Ministry said problems with the storage of nuclear waste meant it could not be considered sustainable.
Critics say Germany’s nuclear phase-out is costly and has increased the country’s dependence on coal and gas.
But nothing indicates that the next German government will change course: of the three parties in coalition talks, two are enthusiastic supporters of the nuclear phase-out and the other accepts it as a fait accompli.
Austria recently said nuclear energy could not be legally placed on the EU’s list due to the risks associated with uranium mining, long-term storage and nuclear accidents.
Any decision “which somehow included nuclear energy in European taxonomy would be subject to legal challenge in EU courts,” according to a report.
There is a potential path to compromise, although it would infuriate environmental groups: include natural gas on the list as well as nuclear.
France has indicated that it is open to this, and Germany may feel compelled to accept the market due to its large gas lobby, Pellerin-Carlin said.
He said political wrangling could undermine the credibility of the list, which was meant to be a guide for companies and prevent them from deceiving customers about their green investments.
“It has become the vehicle for a broader and highly politicized debate on the role of nuclear and gas in the transition,” said Pellerin-Carlin.
Update: October 16, 2021, 4:00 p.m.