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Nuclear Tug of War Intensifies in Brussels

With money and regulations on the table for renewable energy, the EU has become entrenched into two solid blocs with different stances on nuclear power.

Bridget Ryder — April 3, 2023 The European Conservative

With both a package of incentives for green technology and revisions to the Renewable Energy Directive on the table, the fight in Brussels over the place of nuclear power in the ‘green,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘clean’ energy landscape—and its corresponding regulation—has intensified.

The bloc’s energy ministers met last week to prepare their negotiating points with the EU Parliament over changes to the Renewable Energy Directive. Prior to the March 28th Council meeting, energy ministers pow-wowed in competing breakfast gatherings—one for the French-led nuclear alliance and the other for the Austrian-organised Friends of Renewables group, Euractiv reports.

Nuclear alliance

At the end of their meetings, the nuclear alliance sent out a press release to notify the media—and presumably, both the Commission and their rivals on the EU Council—that they had agreed that nuclear energy was indeed “strategic” in achieving the EU Commission’s environmental goals. This is the opposite position to the one the Commission has taken in the recently proposed Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA), a set of incentives meant to counter U.S. green tech subsidies.  

Under French leadership, the nuclear alliance (consisting of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) first met in February while the Commission was still preparing the NZIA. Its goal was to promote nuclear power as a low-carbon source of electricity and work on “common industrial projects.”

In mid-March, the Commission presented the NZIA draft, but with nuclear power excluded from the list of “strategic” technologies that would qualify for incentives. The one exception was “cutting-edge nuclear” technology, such as small modular reactors (SMRs) which could qualify for some investment incentives. The alliance then met again in March, just before the meeting of energy ministers on March 28th, and announced that they had “fully recognised that nuclear is a strategic technology for achieving climate neutrality.”  

The pro-nuclear breakfasts were attended by Italy and Belgium, though only as observers. The two countries made it clear they had not signed on to any agreed position with the group, though they have reasons for desiring a favourable status for nuclear energy.

Belgium, for its part, has had to retract plans to start shutting down the country’s six nuclear reactors. After announcing the closure of a set of nuclear power plants by 2025, the public outcry forced the energy ministry to instead grant them a ten-year extension.  ………………..

Friends of renewables

The Friends of Renewables—Estonia, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Latvia, and Lithuania, with Austria as leader—are a clear counterweight to the nuclear alliance. 

The compromise

After the breakfast gatherings, the two groups had to come together with the rest of the bloc’s member states for the official EU Council Meeting to settle on a negotiating position for the updates to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). 

The nuclear sticking point was whether hydrogen produced using nuclear power should be included in renewable fuel targets. After hours of back and forth, they agreed to label nuclear-produced hydrogen as “low carbon,” in other words, dirtier than ‘green’ hydrogen but better than the ‘brown’ hydrogen linked to fossil fuels.

Nuclear power enters into the debate about renewables in the question of hydrogen gas. Making the gas ‘green,’ a process of separating the hydrogen from water molecules, requires an energy source. When that source is considered ‘green,’ such as solar or wind power, the hydrogen is considered ‘green.’

Negotiators for the EU Parliament then also made room for nuclear power in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), admitting that it has a “role” to play in reducing carbon emissions and is in a category of its own in the spectrum of environmental friendliness. 

The RED now recognizes “the specific role of nuclear power, which is neither green nor fossil,” French MEP Pascal Canfin, chair of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, who participated in the negotiations, tweeted…….

The political agreement reached by the Council and Parliament calls for doubling renewable energy output by 2030. 

“The agreement raises the EU’s binding renewable target for 2030 to a minimum of 42.5%, up from the current 32% target and almost doubling the existing share of renewable energy in the EU. Negotiators also agreed that the EU would aim to reach 45% of renewables by 2030,” the Commission said in a statement about the political agreement on the RED.

‘Renewable’ energy currently makes up just over 20% of the bloc’s energy mix. 

Further room was made for nuclear by provisions in the agreement by giving member states two options to calculate achieving certain targets: either emission reductions or renewable energy output. This is an advantage for countries like France that have substantial nuclear capacity, as carbon dioxide is not the major by-product of nuclear power production.


April 3, 2023 - Posted by | EUROPE, politics international

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