According to a leaked draft of the bloc’s taxonomy proposals, nuclear will be treated differently to renewables, as a transitional activity, Foratom said. Furthermore, “sunset clauses”, so-called because they have time limits, have been introduced for existing plants and new build projects. Foratom said in a statement on Tuesday: “We do not believe this is the right approach.”
The sunset clauses say that to be taxonomy compliant, nuclear new build projects must receive a construction permit by 2045. For lifetime extensions, the extension must be authorised by the member state by 2040.
Renewables do not have to meet any similar clauses, nor do they have to meet other rules applied to “transitional” nuclear. Those rules include that nuclear does not hamper the development and deployment of low-carbon alternatives and does not lead to a “lock-in” of carbon-intensive assets. Lock-in occurs when carbon intensive systems perpetuate, delay or prevent the transition to low-carbon alternatives.
According to the commission, an economic activity qualifies as transitional if there is “no technologically and economically feasible low-carbon alternative” and it supports the transition to a climate-neutral economy. Transitional activities must have greenhouse gas emissions that are substantially lower than the sector or industry average.
Foratom, which represents the European nuclear energy industry, said nuclear does not cause more harm than other taxonomy compliant technologies and “we believe it should be treated on an equal footing” with renewables.
Foratom called for other amendments to the proposed taxonomy rules regarding nuclear.
It said the deadline for an operational repository for high-level waste and spent fuel should be linked to the date when it will be needed, rather than a fixed deadline of 2050. The draft text of the rules says a nuclear power project must have plans in place “with detailed steps” to have in operation, by 2050, a disposal facility if it is to be considered as sustainable under the taxonomy rules.
In its letter, addressed to commission president Ursula von der Leyen and five commissioners, Foratom called for requirements relating to the use of accident-tolerant fuels to only come into effect once such fuels are available on the market.
The letter said the nuclear fuel cycle should be covered by the taxonomy along with the production of heat and hydrogen from existing nuclear plants and advanced technologies.
Foratom said more flexibility, and certainty, should be granted to research and innovation in the nuclear field and, in line with the principle of technology neutrality, nuclear investments should not be subject to separate disclosure requirements.
Foratom director-general Yves Desbazeille said the association recognises that the European commission has been under significant pressure in relation to the taxonomy and the status of nuclear. “In this respect, we are pleased that a proposal is now on the table and that it does take into consideration some of the recommendations put forward by the Joint Research Centre [JRC].”
The 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 Mach 2021 that nuclear fuel 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.
Mr Desbazeille added: “We recognise that this issue remains a very complex one at political level. Nevertheless, we do believe that the issues… should be tackled in order to ensure that the principle of technology neutrality as enshrined in the taxonomy regulation is respected.”
He said Foratom has expressed its willingness to provide the European commission with support where useful.
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.
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 before the end of this year.
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.