Nuclear Politics

Taxonomy / European Commission Expert Group Says Nuclear Energy Should Not Be Included

By David Dalton
24 January 2022

Advisory body says it ‘would have preferred more time’ to carry out review
European Commission Expert Group Says Nuclear Energy Should Not Be Included
Existing and new nuclear power plants should not be considered as “taxonomy aligned” on the basis that they do not ensure the principle of “do no significant harm” is met, the European commission’s Platform on Sustainable Finance has concluded.

The Platform, an expert group established to help the commission in developing its sustainable finance policies, was asked by the commission on 31 December to provide feedback on the draft complementary delegated act that proposes nuclear energy be included in the bloc’s sustainable finance taxonomy.

In a report released on Monday the Platform said existing nuclear and new nuclear do not ensure no significant harm to the sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, the transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention and control, or the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.

It said, however, that there was only a short time available for review and it would have preferred more time. It said it is willing to support the European commission to develop an approach that could support investments for transitioning energy supply without weakening the taxonomy.

The Platform concluded that new nuclear plants do not ensure a substantial contribution to 2050 climate neutrality goals as defined in the taxonomy and would require substantial changes to do so.

It said nuclear energy is already part of the transitioning energy system and has near to zero greenhouse gas emissions, but “this does not make the activity green and sustainable for taxonomy purposes”.

“The substantial contribution of existing nuclear facilities to climate change mitigation goal is noted, but substantial contribution to current climate change mitigation goals is unlikely to be present for new facilities if they come into service near to 2050 or later,” the Platform concluded.

But it said it wanted to help the commission ensure an energy transition and will respond within weeks to the commission’s request to develop a proposal for an extended taxonomy. The Platform is developing an extended taxonomy with an intermediate performance category, which it calls Amber.

The European commission said on 31 December it was beginning consultations with member states on the draft text of the regulation, which will allow nuclear energy to be labelled as a “green” energy source that could contribute to the transition to climate neutrality.

It said consultations will also be held with its group of expert advisers from finance, industry and civil society groups. It will analyse their contributions and formally adopt the regulation, known as a delegated act, this month. It will be then sent to the European parliament for scrutiny.

Last year, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the commission’s scientific expert arm, was asked to assess whether the EU should label nuclear power as a green investment. It concluded in April that nuclear qualified as sustainable and does no more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production sources already included in the bloc’s taxonomy.

The commission asked two more expert groups – the Euratom Article 31 expert group on radiation protection, and the scientific committee on health, environmental and emerging risks (Scheer) – to review JRC’s report. Both said they broadly agreed with the JRCs findings.

The taxonomy is a set of rules that will restrict which activities can be labelled as climate-friendly investments. It is intended to guide investors to projects that are in line with Europe’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

The taxonomy became law in July 2020, but legislators left important details to be resolved through delegated acts – secondary legislation meant for technical issues that is not subject to the same degree of ministerial and parliamentary oversight.

Since then, the project has been overshadowed by a fierce political row that culminated when EU leaders meeting in Brussels before Christmas were forced to abandon plans for a joint statement on energy policy. France wants a stamp of approval for nuclear, while Poland and eastern European states insist gas is labelled a sustainable investment.

Ten 10 EU countries recently spoke out in support of nuclear power, saying it is “absolutely essential” it is included in the taxonomy.

In an opinion article in a number of European newspapers, the countries said nuclear energy is an affordable, stable and independent energy resource. Firstly, because it protects European consumers from price volatility, unlike gas. Secondly, because it contributes decisively to the independence of the EU’s sources of energy and electricity production.

Ministers from Germany, Austria, Portugal, Denmark and Luxembourg said they are against the inclusion of nuclear in the taxonomy.

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