Is nuclear a green energy? Europe is tearing itself apart

Is nuclear a green energy? Europe is tearing itself apart
Is nuclear a green energy? Europe is tearing itself apart

Nuclear power, green energy? Five countries of the European Union say no. Last week, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain sent a letter to the European Commission calling for nuclear energy not to be included in the green taxonomy. This one has for objective of providing investors with a list of activities that can be considered beneficial for the climate in order to promote the orientation of private capital towards activities that support the climate objectives of the European Union, which has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.

more, andn due to the divergent positions of EU members, in particular the two heavyweights, France and Germany, Brussels cannot take a position on whether or not to include nuclear power on this list.

Last March, the committee received another letter, this time signed by French President Emmanuel Macron and the Prime Ministers of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. They called for not excluding nuclear from energy climate policies and benefits.

The credibility and usefulness of taxonomy called into question

The integration, or not, of nuclear power in this classification has indeed stirred the political and industrial spheres for several weeks. France, where nuclear power represents more than 70% of the electricity mix, ardently defends its integration, as do several countries in Eastern Europe. They are indeed relying on nuclear power (which emits very little CO2) to decarbonize their electricity production, which still relies heavily on coal-fired power stations.

“France will fight for nuclear power to be considered as low-carbon energy. (…) We are fighting this fight with the greatest determination. We need nuclear power to make the ecological transition a success,” said the Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, last April.

On the other side, Germany (which accelerated its timetable for phasing out nuclear energy following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 in Japan) firmly opposes it and is now officially supported by four other member countries. .

“We fear that the inclusion of nuclear energy in the taxonomy will definitely undermine its integrity, its credibility and therefore its usefulness,” write the environment and energy ministers of the five member countries in the letter obtained by the media Euractiv. “Many savers and investors would lose confidence in financial products marketed as” sustainable “if they were to fear that by purchasing these products, they finance activities in the field of nuclear energy,” they continue.

A technical report in favor of nuclear criticized

The ministers point out in particular the “gaps”of a report by the Joint Research Center (JRC), the joint research center of the European Commission, published last March, which concludes that nuclear energy is safe. According to these experts, nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source comparable to wind power or hydraulic power. And as such, it can claim the green investment label of the EU taxonomy. “The analyzes did not reveal any scientific evidence showing that nuclear energy is more dangerous to human health and the environment than any other power generation technology”, writes the JRC.

“Nuclear power is incompatible with the ‘do no significant harm’ principle of the taxonomy regulation”, estimate, on the contrary, the five ministers, affirming that the evaluation of the safety of nuclear installations by the JRC is erroneous.

The signatories also criticize the report for not taking into account the life cycle approach for the assessment of environmental risks when it comes to the geological disposal of nuclear waste. “After more than 60 years of using nuclear energy, not a single fuel element has been permanently phased out in the world”, they point out.

A second opinion, issued only a few days ago by the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks, could go in the direction of the German camp. Requested by the European Commission, the body was to examine the technical report of the JCR. In his conclusion, he considers that some information is missing and that the comparative approach with other production technologies is not sufficient to “guarantee the absence of significant damage“.

Missing information

“If a more in-depth assessment is necessary, it must apply to all technologies of taxonomy, and not only to nuclear”, reacted, this Monday, July 3, Foratom, the association which brings together European nuclear industrialists, on Twitter.

#FORATOMDG @YDesbazeille: The JRC has assessed nuclearin line with the #EUTaxonomycriteria. If a more in-depth assessment is needed, then it should apply to all technologies under the taxonomy, and not just nuclear.

– FORATOM (@FORATOM_nuclear)

In France, the integration of nuclear power into the green taxonomy is crucial for EDF at a time when the energy company, highly indebted, faces a wall of investments to maintain its existing nuclear fleet and to launch new projects.

“This is a major subject for the nuclear industry and for its future investments. If nuclear is not retained in the taxonomy, it will be an element of great complexity,” said Cécile Arbouille, general delegate of Gifen (the union of professionals of the French nuclear industry) in a previous interview.

On April 21, the European executive decided to postpone the arbitration on the integration of nuclear power into the green taxonomy “see you later in the year “. An additional delegated act on gas, nuclear power and agriculture must therefore be published in the course of the fourth quarter.

Juliette Raynal

05 Jul 2021, 17:14

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