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The nuclear lobby gears up to take ”green” nuclear energy spin to the European Commission and on to COP26

As German election nears, EU plays for time on nuclear’s green recognition. Euractiv, 10 Sept 21, The inclusion of nuclear power in the EU’s green finance taxonomy is “the most likely” outcome in view of the scientific reports submitted to the European Commission in the past months, EU experts believe. But Brussels is not entirely decided yet and is seen playing for time before the German election this month.

Is nuclear electricity a green source of energy or does it pose a “significant harm” to the environment?This seemingly simple debate, which has divided EU politicians for the last two years, is about to reach its climax with a decision expected in the coming months……………

The Commission’s in-house scientific body, the Joint Research Centre, released a much-awaited report on nuclear power on 2 April. Its conclusions were clear: nuclear power is a safe, low-carbon energy source comparable to wind and hydropower, and as such, it qualifies for a green investment label under the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

These conclusions were subsequently backed by two other EU bodies, the Euratom Article 31 expert group and the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER)…………

Diplomats and industry lobbyists consulted by EURACTIV concurred: the most likely outcome is that the European Commission will table a proposal in the coming months, possibly as late as November or December, after the formation of the new German government.

From what we understand, the [proposal] itself will likely come out around October–December this year,” said Jessica Johnson, communications director at Foratom, the trade association representing the nuclear industry in Brussels.

An EU diplomat, for his part, spoke of “September-November”.

German political hurdles

The recognition of nuclear power as a ‘green’ source of energy is not a foregone conclusion though, and the decision could still go either way because of continued opposition to nuclear in Germany and four other EU member states.

In July, Germany’s environment minister Svenja Schulze sent a letter to the Commission – also signed by her counterparts in Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain – asking for nuclear to be kept out of the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

The topic is politically sensitive in Germany, which is about to complete its nuclear phase-out next year. Any move by the European Commission to label the energy source as ‘green’ is likely to pollute the political debate ahead of the election on 26 September………….

German political hurdles

The recognition of nuclear power as a ‘green’ source of energy is not a foregone conclusion though, and the decision could still go either way because of continued opposition to nuclear in Germany and four other EU member states.

In July, Germany’s environment minister Svenja Schulze sent a letter to the Commission – also signed by her counterparts in Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain – asking for nuclear to be kept out of the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

The topic is politically sensitive in Germany, which is about to complete its nuclear phase-out next year. Any move by the European Commission to label the energy source as ‘green’ is likely to pollute the political debate ahead of the election on 26 September.

“Assuming that the Commission already knows it is going to propose including nuclear in the taxonomy, it would indeed be in its own interest to wait for the outcome of the German elections,”  said Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, a researcher and director at the Jacques Delors Institute’s energy centre. 

From the Commission’s point of view, the German election may not be the biggest source of worry, though.

In the pro-nuclear camp, positions are possibly even more entrenched, with France leading a coalition of seven pro-nuclear countries, which also includes Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

France will fight for nuclear to be considered as a decarbonised energy source in Europe,” said the country’s economy minister Bruno Le Maire.

“I don’t want there to be any doubts about this. We will lead this fight with the greatest determination,” he said in April……..

French elections looming large

Seen from Brussels, the political context in France may actually appear more daunting than the German one.

With the presidential election coming up next April, a negative decision on nuclear risks triggering a political backlash in France, just as the country prepares to take the rotating EU Council Presidency in January.

“It would fuel French political attacks on ‘Brussels’” from a wide range of parties, Pellerin-Carlin said. In turn, this would undermine Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign because the French president has always positioned himself as a convinced pro-European.

“From a political point of view, the debate on nuclear power and the taxonomy risks raising questions about Macron’s European record and Europe’s place in France,” he said……………

the anti-nuclear camp has not given up just yet. And the most prominent critic is the German environment ministry, which appointed its own expert group to review the EU’s JRC study.

In their conclusions, published on 14 July, the German experts slammed the JRC report for ignoring entire subject areas like the possibility of a nuclear accident.

“For example, the effects of severe accidents on the environment are not included when assessing whether to include nuclear energy in the taxonomy register – yet they have occurred several times over the last few decades,” the report noted. “This raises the question of whether the JRC has selected too narrow a framework of observation,” it added.

The German experts also remarked that the JRC mentions topics like radioactive waste disposal, but then fails to consider them in more detail.

“The JRC itself says that the primary and best waste management strategy is not to generate any radioactive waste in the first place. However, this assessment is not consistently applied within the report,” the German experts wrote.

According to them, “the JRC Report is therefore incomplete and fails to comprehensively assess the sustainability of using nuclear energy.”

A pro-nuclear Commission

So what will the Commission now do?

According to Pellerin-Carlin, the various scientific reports have clearly paved the way for the Commission to label nuclear as ‘green’.

“The current dynamics lead me to think that the Commission will make a proposal in this direction,” he told EURACTIV. “According to expert reports that have been issued, there is not enough evidence that waste is a problem that causes ‘significant’ harm to the environment,” he said.

Besides, the European Commission itself is seen as broadly pro-nuclear. “Within the Commission, President Ursula von der Leyen is not known for taking anti-nuclear positions, unlike many German politicians,” Pellerin-Carlin pointed out.

“In fact, looking at the College of Commissioners, I don’t see anyone who is fiercely anti-nuclear,” he added, saying a majority of Commissioners “have accepted nuclear power as a transitional energy source, and in any case as a necessary evil” in the energy transition, while coal is being phased out.

“And then within the Commission, there is Thierry Breton, who is a key figure on this subject, and who somewhat exceeds his prerogatives as Internal Market Commissioner by campaigning publicly in favour of nuclear power.”

Throwing gas into the mix

The outcome of the Commission’s thinking may be slightly different though, and could also incorporate natural gas into the mix.

In its April communication on the taxonomy, the EU executive said it “will adopt a complementary delegated act” that will cover nuclear energy subject to the completion of the various EU scientific assessments. “This complementary Delegated Act will also cover natural gas and related technologies as transitional activity,” the Commission added………..

French elections looming large

Seen from Brussels, the political context in France may actually appear more daunting than the German one.

With the presidential election coming up next April, a negative decision on nuclear risks triggering a political backlash in France, just as the country prepares to take the rotating EU Council Presidency in January.    https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/as-german-election-nears-eu-plays-for-time-on-nuclears-green-recognition/

September 13, 2021 - Posted by | climate change, EUROPE, politics international

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