Nuclear Politics

Taxonomy / Nuclear Vote ‘Important Recognition’ Of Europe’s ‘Pragmatic And Realistic’ Approach

By David Dalton
7 July 2022

‘Targeted’ investments still needed in nuclear in short-term, says commission
Nuclear Vote ‘Important Recognition’ Of Europe’s ‘Pragmatic And Realistic’ Approach
From a total of 639 votes, 328 voted against a motion to exclude nuclear energy – and gas – from the taxonomy.
The vote by members of the European parliament to support legislation which includes nuclear in the bloc’s sustainable finance taxonomy for green investment is “important recognition” of Europe’s pragmatic and realistic approach to help states on their transition path towards climate neutrality, the European commission said.

The commission said it welcomed the result of the vote on the complementary delegated act on climate change mitigation and adaptation covering certain gas and nuclear activities.

From a total of 639 votes, 328 voted against a motion to exclude nuclear energy – and gas – from the taxonomy. 278 voted for the motion to exclude nuclear and gas and 33 abstained.

The vote means gas and nuclear will now be included in the taxonomy as transitional activities in a limited number of circumstances and under strict conditions. Both are recognised as “stepping stones” in the transition towards more renewables.

The commission said targeted investments in both gas and nuclear are still needed in the medium term.

“Climate neutrality is our objective and legal obligation,” the commission said. “We are committed to using all available tools to move away from high carbon-emitting energy sources.”

The commission said Russia’s “unprovoked military aggression” of Ukraine adds to the urgency in accelerating the bloc’s clean transition. “The REPowerEU Plan and the complementary delegated act both reflect this reality and help reduce our dependency on Russian gas,” the commission said.

The REPowerEU Plan was launched in response to the hardships and global energy market disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It calls for Europe to phase out its dependency on Russian fossil fuels through energy savings, diversification of energy supplies and the accelerated rollout of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.

Mairead McGuinness, commissioner in charge of financial services, financial stability and capital markets union, said the complementary delegated act is a pragmatic proposal to ensure that private investments in gas and nuclear, needed for the energy transition, meet strict criteria.

“Investment in renewables is already prioritised in our taxonomy - this is our future,” she said. “Our proposal ensures transparency so investors will know what they are investing in.”

The complementary delegated act will enter into force on 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.

The Brussels-based nuclear industry group nucleareurope said in a statement after the result was announced that the science “clearly states that nuclear is sustainable and essential in the fight against climate change”.

“It is fantastic to see that a majority in the European parliament has decided to listen to the experts and take the right decision” said Yves Desbazeille, nucleareurope’s director-general.

“We have less than 30 years left to decarbonise our economy in a sustainable way. By listening to the science, these MEPs have strengthened the EU’s chances of achieving this ambitious goal.”

Financial services commissioner Mairead McGuinness told MEPs before the plenary debate and vote on the taxonomy that “this is a moment of truth”.

She said the delegated act prioritises investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. “And given the urgency of moving away from Russian fossil fuels, we need to ramp up those investments with a renewed sense of urgency,” she said.

Ms McGuinness said nuclear power is “divisive” and there are many different views around nuclear, it has its supporters and detractors.

But she said low-carbon nuclear is “part of our energy mix in transition” and “that is why it is in the transition category of the taxonomy”.

‘Stringent’ Conditions For Nuclear

According to the commission, nuclear can now be considered as taxonomy compliant as long as it meets several “stringent” conditions. These stringent conditions are that nuclear contributes to the transition to climate neutrality and that it fulfils nuclear and environmental safety requirements.

More specific additional conditions include:

- The member state in which the nuclear 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.

nucleareurope said noted that the European commission’s own scientific body, the Joint Research Centre, concluded in 2021 that nuclear is as sustainable as other power-producing technologies already considered as taxonomy-compliant, including renewables.

It said the decision places the EU on an equal footing globally. “Interest in nuclear is growing all around the world, including in the EU.” Nuclear is “a major lever” to decarbonise the European economy and the European nuclear industry has a lot of projects in the pipeline which will require significant private investment, including the extension of the existing nuclear fleet, new build projects including large reactors and small modular reactors, and the development of new European technologies such as advanced reactors.

nucleareurope also said the decision strengthens security of energy supply. “Because it is not weather dependent, nuclear is available 24/7. Given that today’s decision will support the further development of nuclear in the EU, this will in turn enhance security of energy supplies,” the group said.

NIA Calls For UK Taxonomy

In the UK, the chief executive of the London-based Nuclear Industry Association Tom Greatrex said nuclear’s inclusion in the EU taxonomy is “a huge victory for science”. He said: “Nuclear is green, with the lowest lifecycle carbon, lowest land use, and lowest metal use of all electricity generation technologies.”

He called on the UK to give nuclear the green label it deserves in its own taxonomy, to make it cheaper and easier to finance nuclear projects and to establish the UK as a green finance leader.

The US industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute said the European parliament had taken an important step forward as Europe seeks a pathway to meet its sustainability and climate goals.

President and chief executive officer Maria Korsnick said the vote “illustrates the consensus opinion that existing and new nuclear generation are critical to global decarbonisation efforts.

“The decision also demonstrates the critical role that nuclear carbon-free generation can play as countries seek greater energy security as Russia weaponises energy production to influence the geopolitical landscape.”

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