by N. Peter Kramer
What position does nuclear energy have in the fight against global warming? A heated debate about this question takes place in the EU and many of its member states. In 2019, a quarter of electricity production in the EU was generated by nuclear energy. Proponents say it is ‘indispensable’ to become climate neutral by 2050, nuclear energy is not only CO2 neutral but also unlike solar and wind energy permanently available.
With its Green Deal, the European Commission has outlined a roadmap to achieve the ambitious goal for 2050, but it does not state which technology the member states should use to achieve it. Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans says ‘the Commission is technology-neutral, the choice is up to the countries themselves.
‘Brussels’ has to go further than that, seven member states including France, Hungary and Poland say in a recent letter to the Commission. ‘The EU must not only recognise climate-neutral technologies, it must also actively support them’. French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Victor Orban and the other five government leaders ask the Commission to label nuclear energy as a ‘sustainable investment’ in the so-called EU taxonomy.
With this classification system, the Commission wants to uniformly define what green investments are, in order to encourage public and private investors to consider projects ‘that have proven to be sustainable’.
The call from the seven member states comes at a time when the Commission wants to put the final touches to that taxonomy. Solar and wind farms will certainly count as sustainable projects, and nuclear energy plants should be treated in the same way, advocates the letter.
However, the opponents of nuclear energy including Germany and Austria, disagree, partly because of the environmental impact of nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for centuries, is said to be insufficiently taken into account.
The Commission asked its scientific research centre, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), to prepare a report. A leaked version of the report obtained by Reuters, shows that the JRC will recommend giving nuclear energy a green label. ‘The analyses did not reveal any scientific evidence that nuclear energy is more harmful to human health or the environment than other power generation technologies’, the report said.
The researchers find storage deep underground ‘appropriate and safe’, ‘although there is no long-term operational experience’. Serious nuclear accidents, such as a decade ago in Fukushima, Japan, ‘cannot be ruled out one hundred percent’, says the JRC, but are ‘very unlikely’.
Two expert committees must now review the JRC’s report before the Commission takes a decision.