The European Commission will classify as ‘green’ investment in nuclear power plants

The classification, flagged by France, could redirect millionaire investments for the construction of new reactors.

Trillo nuclear power plant (Guadalajara)

The unstoppable rise in light has overturned the consideration of nuclear energy in Europe. After many months of indecision and doubts, the Commission of Ursula von der Leyen It is preparing to take a decisive step in the coming weeks: it will classify the construction of nuclear (and gas) plants as ‘green investment’, at the same level as renewable energy parks. A decision that is expected to boost the flow of money and reduce costs for these projects.

The catastrophe at the Fukushima plant (Japan) in March 2011 caused a death Punch to nuclear. Many countries froze their investment projects in new reactors, others went further and decreed a total nuclear blackout. The most emblematic case is the abrupt change of position of Angela Merkel. Although his Government had just approved an average 12-year extension of the operating life of the German plants, after the Fukushima accident, it decided to close all of them by 2022.

The energy crisis caused by the unstoppable rise in electricity has given a new life to nuclear power in the EU. A source of energy that does not produce greenhouse effect emissions (and therefore contributes to the fight against climate change) and that also provides a stable and secure supply, in the face of the volatility of renewables. Countries like France or Poland They bet again on the construction of new reactors. Others like Belgium are reconsidering their decision to abandon it permanently.

Why is the decision of the research team important? Ursula von der Leyen to now classify nuclear as ‘green investment’? To reach its zero emissions target by 2050, Europe needs between 175,000 and 290,000 million euros per year of additional investment for decades to come.

Most of this money will have to come from the private sector. Hence, Brussels has developed a strict labeling system -The taxonomy, in Brussels slang- of clean economic activities, whose objective is to redirect investments towards more sustainable technologies and companies and at the same time combat “green laundering”.

Although betting or not on nuclear power is a purely national competition (and it will remain so), classifying this energy source as ‘green’ would redirect the money flow towards the construction or renovation of reactors in those countries that want it, at a time when ecological awareness weighs more and more among investors. A vital injection of funds since nuclear power requires multi-million dollar initial investments.

Division in the EU

However, the division between Member States it has so far prevented the community executive from making a decision. In its first draft of the taxonomy, which was published last April, the status of nuclear and gas was not clarified. France leads the camp of countries that defend nuclear power tooth and nail, since more than 70% of its electricity comes from atomic plants. Emmanuel Macron just announced a € 1 billion plan to develop new small and innovative reactors by 2030.

In March of this year, the French president already sent a joint letter with six other European heads of government (those of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) in which he demanded that the Commission label nuclear power as a ‘green investment’. So his central argument was guarantee a “level playing field” among all energies that do not emit CO2.

At the opposite extreme, Germany leads the front of refusal to “whitewash” the nuclear energy. A front in which they also actively militate Spain, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg. These five countries sent a reply letter to Brussels in July to refute the thesis of the opposing side and especially the report of the EU Joint Research Center (JRC, for its acronym in English), which also supports granting nuclear the ‘green investment’ label.

The JRC expert study, published last March, concludes that there is no “no scientific evidence that nuclear power does more harm to human health or the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the taxonomy as activities that contribute to the mitigation of climate change ”. The JRC is the internal scientific service of the European Commission.

In their response, Germany, Spain and their partners sThey argue that nuclear power cannot be labeled as clean energy due to the problem of hazardous waste thatgenera, for which a definitive solution remains to be found. ”After more than 60 years of using nuclear energy, not a single fuel element has been permanently disposed of anywhere in the world. (…) Nuclear energy is a high-risk technology, while wind energy is not ”, the letter continues.

“Including nuclear energy in the taxonomy would permanently damage its integrity, credibility and therefore its usefulness. Many savers and investors would lose faith in financial products marketed as ‘sustainable’ if they had to fear that by purchasing these products they would be financing nuclear power activities. Nuclear power is incompatible with the principle ‘do no significant harm’ of the taxonomy regulations ”, says the letter, which is signed by the vice-presidents Nadia Calvin Y Teresa Ribera.

The Government of Pedro Sánchez has approved the gradual closure of the Spanish nuclear park, which currently generates more than 20% of the electricity consumed in the country, between 2027 and 2035.

Protection against crisis

The relative balance of forces between the two sides had so far prevented Von der Leyen from advancing one way or the other. But the current price crisis changes everything. The unstoppable escalation of light has altered the distribution of roles and begins to decant the balance on the side of the pronuclear block. “The situation in the energy market has brought new elements to this debate and has affected the mindset of ministers,” explains a senior Eurogroup official.

¡We Europeans need nuclear energy!“, Argues France and 9 other countries in a new joint rostrum published at the beginning of October in the newspaper Le Figaro. Now, the main thesis is that this energy source “protects European consumers from price volatility“And also” contributes decisively to the independence “of the EU from unreliable suppliers such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“Nuclear energy is safe and innovative. For more than 60 years, the European nuclear industry has proven its safety and reliability. It is one of the most regulated sectors in the world, with 126 reactors in service in 14 European countries“Continues the joint statement.

“It is, therefore, absolutely essential that nuclear energy be included in the framework of the European taxonomy before the end of this year,” concludes the text. As the electricity bill becomes more expensive, the French position is gaining adherents in the EU. To the signatories of the March letter Finland, Croatia and Bulgaria have now joined. The Netherlands and Sweden have also shown sympathy with this joint statement.

The role of nuclear energy dominated much of the debate on energy prices held by European leaders during the summit held on October 21 in Brussels. And there the definitive turn took place: a pact between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel which gives the Commission the green light to include in the taxonomy both nuclear energy (as France wants) and gas as a transition source (as Germany wants), as revealed by the newspaper The world.

Before the end of the year

A pact that, without anyone noticing at the time, was echoed by Ursula von der Leyen already at the final press conference of the European Council. “We need more renewable energy. They are cheaper, carbon-free, and homegrown. We also need a stable source, nuclear and, during the transition, gas. That is why we will present our taxonomy proposal ”, said the President of the Commission.

Which are the next steps? The Community Executive plans to approve its legislative project “before the end of the year“. All the previous leaks in the last few days assume that the taxonomy will include both nuclear energy and gas. To bring it down, Member States would need to muster a qualified majority, something highly unlikely considering that advocates of these two energy sources will support the plan.

A prospect that has already infuriated environmental organizations. “This proposal is a scientific shame that will give a fatal blow to taxonomy. It will seriously damage the sustainable financial agenda of the EU and the European Green Deal, “says WWF spokesman Henry Eviston.

For its part, the nuclear industry demands that Brussels be included in the taxonomy as soon as possible. “The EU must put in place solutions today that ensure it can generate enough low-carbon electricity in Europe to meet growing demand. This means supporting the development of nuclear energy ”, says Foratom.