Nuclear Politics

EU Taxonomy / Nuclear Not Included In Technical Recommendations, Experts Call For ‘More Work’ On Topic

By Kamen Kraev
12 March 2020

Evidence is ‘complex and difficult to evaluate’, says working group
 Nuclear Not Included In Technical Recommendations, Experts Call For ‘More Work’ On Topic
A technical expert group of the European Commission has not included nuclear energy in its recommendations on the bloc’s proposed taxonomy regulation, saying it was unable to conclude that the industry’s value chain does not cause significant harm to other environmental objectives.

The report recommended that more extensive technical work is done on the so-called “do-no-significant-harm” aspects of nuclear energy. It said the work should be done by a team with “in-depth technical expertise” on nuclear life cycle technologies.

The recommendations are contained in the technical expert group’s report on sustainable finance published earlier this week. The report includes the group’s recommendations on the bloc’s taxonomy regulation, a classification system for the financing of sustainable economic activities.

The taxonomy will create a common language that investors can refer to when investing in projects and economic activities that have a substantial positive impact on the climate and the environment. It stipulates that a number of environmental objectives should be considered when evaluating how sustainable an economic activity is.

The group was asked to develop recommendations on what the technical criteria should be for determining when an economic activity can be considered sustainable and can therefore be considered “taxonomy-aligned.”

The do-no-significant-harm principle aims to guarantee that energy technologies do no harm to other objectives, including the economy, or tackling issues like waste management, biodiversity, water systems and pollution.

The report said experts considered nuclear energy because its “near to zero” greenhouse-gas emissions from power generation can contribute to meeting climate objectives.

“Evidence on the potential substantial contribution of nuclear energy to climate mitigation objectives was extensive and clear,” the report said. “The potential role of nuclear energy in low-carbon energy supply is well documented.”

However, the report said that evidence about nuclear energy is complex and more difficult to evaluate in a taxonomy context when it comes to the policy’s do-no-significant-harm principle.

It said “empirical gaps” remain with respect to the do-no-significant-harm issue, although the expert group received evidence of the existence solutions to “reduce risks” to “pollution and biodiversity objectives arising from the nuclear value chain.”

As an example, the report said a combination of temporary storage and permanent geological disposal is the “most promising” approach to long-term management of high-level nuclear waste, but no geological repository has yet been put into operation worldwide, precluding experts from carrying out a robust do-no-significant-harm assessment.

The report said no fossil-fired energy generation sources should be included in the taxonomy, while wind, solar and tidal energy are excluded from the requirement for an assessment of their lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

It said that to aid Europe’s transition to a net-zero economy, certain technologies including wind, solar and tidal are excluded from a requirement to conduct an assessment of their lifecycle greenhouse-gas emissions because they “currently perform significantly below the emissions intensity threshold”.

Brussels-based nuclear industry group Foratom has previously called on the EC to acknowledge the “critical role” nuclear energy has to play under the EU’s sustainable finance initiative.

The group said waste criteria did not appear to have been applied in the same way for all power generation technologies and called on the Commission to ensure equal treatment for all energy sources under the taxonomy.

Foratom said the Commission should invite experts with in-depth knowledge of nuclear life cycle technologies to take another look at nuclear power and its do-no-significant-harm impact.

The technical expert group said the report represents only the views of group members, not those of the Commission. Foratom has questioned elements of the reference material used by the group in its assessment of nuclear power’s eligibility to the taxonomy criteria.

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