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Nuclear power in the EU taxonomy and Germany’s position

Q&A: Why is Germany phasing-out nuclear power and why now? 28 Dec 2021,  Kerstine Appunn ”……………………………..Nuclear power in the EU taxonomy and Germany’s position

Observers have called France’s push to include nuclear power projects in the EU taxonomy as a sustainable investment a “political nightmare” for Germany. Backed by a group of other European countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Finland, Hungary, Poland and Romania, French President Emmanuel Macron tries to make nuclear power a pillar of the EU’s decarbonisation strategy, while Germany is betting heavily on wind and solar power. It is supported in its push for a nuclear-free taxonomy by Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark. Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democrats (SPD), has told Macron that he has always been opposed to nuclear power, much like his coalition partner, the Green Party.

If included in the taxonomy, nuclear power investments could be part of green funds, banks could declare loans to nuclear projects as sustainable investments – all in aid of getting more private investment to flow into climate friendly economic activities and businesses.

Agora Energiewende’s Müller says the German approach is still more future-proof. “The idea that nuclear power stations can be built at predictable costs and by a predictable schedule has not proven to be realistic. We also still have the unresolved problem of nuclear waste storage as well as the possibility of a major accident. Germany’s decision to focus on the expansion of renewables instead of nuclear is reflected also by the markets as renewables dominate electricity investments internationally.”

The European Commission is set to come out with a proposal for the taxonomy in January 2022, which EU member states will then decide on with a majority vote. Instead of an in-or-out decision on nuclear (and natural gas), the commission is likely to present a compromise that would classify nuclear as a temporary, transitional technology which has to be labelled and declared in funds so that consumers and investors have the choice between “entirely green” products, e.g. renewable energies, or second or third tier products that include nuclear or gas technology.

Whatever the decision, Müller says Germany and France should focus more on the common ground concerning the energy transition. “Recent French studies show – independently of the future of nuclear energy – that a massive expansion of renewables is needed to reach the climate targets. And there are also opportunities for cooperation between Germany and France on green hydrogen.”

Shouldn’t Germany – like other countries – embrace and support the use of new small modular reactors?

Using a large fleet of small modular reactors (SMR) to secure climate neutral electricity supply in the future – as proposed by billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates – has been hailed as a climate change solution. In Belgium, which is set to shutter its two remaining nuclear power stations by 2025, the government agreed to invest 100 million euros in the research on SMR.

SMR proponents claim that, once produced in bulk, these small plants are cheaper and safer thanks to advanced reactor designs and can be operated with converted short-lived radioactive materials, solving the waste problem.

But two assessments commissioned by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) have found that these tens of thousands of small reactors would carry enormous risks with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and will probably never be as cheap as their advocates say.

What is different in Germany compared to other countries in Europe which embrace nuclear as a CO2-free solution?

Germany not only has strong public support for, and a long history of, anti-nuclear sentiment, it also has only 11 percent of nuclear left in its power mix. Leaving it behind entirely is therefore a more obvious and easy decision than for other countries, such as France, where the share of nuclear power in domestic generation stands at 70.6 percent, but also in Bulgaria with 40.8 percent, in Sweden with 29.8 percent (in Spain: 22.2%, Russia at 20.%, United States at 19.7%, UK 16%, all in 2020).

Historians also explain the different attitude towards nuclear with the different reactions to the Chernobyl accident, which was felt much closer and more threatening to Germans compared to French or UK citizens. Another explanation for Germany’s sensitivity to nuclear power is that early on, the post-war critique of nuclear weapons was linked to the civilian use of nuclear fission. (A second wave of the German peace movement in the 1980s would also bolster a younger generation’s resistance to nuclear power.)

And even if there are people who make a case for nuclear for climate protection reasons, the exit has now proceeded too far to be reversed, and there is simply no influential political power that would consider re-opening the painful, decade-long debate on nuclear power that has finally been put to rest.

December 30, 2021 - Posted by | climate change, Germany, politics international

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