“We remain disappointed that nuclear continues to be treated as a transitional technology,” said Foratom director-general Yves Desbazeille. “We firmly believe that it contributes to climate mitigation objectives and does not cause more harm than any other power-producing technology already considered as taxonomy compliant.”
According to the proposed regulations announced on 2 February, nuclear can be considered as taxonomy compliant as long as it meets several stringent conditions, including:
- The member state in which the project is located must have operational final disposal facilities for very low, low and intermediate radioactive waste;
- The member state must have plans in place for an operational disposal facility for high level radioactive waste;
- As of 2025, existing and new build projects must use accident-tolerant fuel, which has been certified and approved by the national regulator.
“These criteria will prove very challenging, even if we respect that the goal is to push for continuous improvement,” said Mr Desbazeille. “For example, accident-tolerant fuels are still in the testing phase and will not be commercially available – nor certified and approved – by 2025, making it impossible for projects to meet this criterion.”
The Brussels-based group noted that the normal operation and maintenance of existing installations is not included under the taxonomy, only capital expenditure destined for lifetime extensions of existing plants.
Earlier, before the taxonomy decision was announced, the governments of Finland and Sweden said in a letter to the European commission that the operation of existing nuclear power facilities should be included in the taxonomy. The two countries also called for deadlines for nuclear power investments to be removed. The taxonomy rules say existing nuclear power plants can be included in the taxonomy only until 2040 and new nuclear power plants until 2045.
Foratom said it will continue to liaise with the European commission to ensure that future reviews of the taxonomy’s criteria are in line with science based technical progress achieved by the industry.
Sama Bilbao y León, director-general of the London-based World Nuclear Association, said the adoption of the rules is a hugely important milestone that the international financial community cannot afford to ignore. “Nuclear energy is essential for the low-carbon energy transition and will be part of the EU future energy landscape for many decades to come,” she said.
The new legislation means nuclear will now be labelled as a “green” energy source that could contribute to Europe’s transition to climate neutrality.
The commission said in a statement that the college of commissioners – a body made up of 27 policy commissioners – reached a political agreement on the text of the new regulations, known as a complementary delegated act, which could now become law on 1 January 2023.
Mairead McGuinness, the bloc’s financial services commissioner, said the EU is committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and needs to use all the tools at its disposal to get there. “Stepping up private investment in the transition is key to reaching our climate goals,” she said.
“Today we are setting out strict conditions to help mobilise finance to support this transition, away from more harmful energy sources like coal. And we are boosting market transparency so that investors will be able to easily identify gas and nuclear activities in any investment decisions.”
Once translated into all official EU languages, the act will be scrutinised for up to four months by the European parliament and the Council of the European Union.
Once the scrutiny period is over – and if there are no objections – the act will enter into force and apply as of 1 January 2023.
The taxonomy became law in July 2020, but legislators left important details to be resolved through complementary 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 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 have spoken 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, with Austria saying it will go to court to prevent nuclear being part of the taxonomy rules. Germany has also said it has not ruled out the option of legal action.
The commission began consultations on the text of the complementary delegated act with member states on 31 December.
It also consulted with a number of expert groups, including the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the commission’s scientific expert arm, which was asked to assess whether the EU should label nuclear power as a green investment. The JRC 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 taxonomy.