EU includes nuclear in clean energy transition plans

18 December 2019

European Union (EU) leaders on 13 December agreed to a 2050 climate neutrality target aiming at a transition away from fossil fuels and a role for nuclear power.

The agreement was hard won in face of demands from Eastern European states that there should be financial support for such a transition. Only Poland did not commit to the agreement, having argued for a target date of 2070 while Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary approved it. The nuclear role was included despite initial resistance from Luxembourg, Austria and Germany.

Czech Prime minister Andrej Babiš said: “Nuclear energy is clean energy. I don’t know why people have a problem with this.” Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said the EU’s climate targets would not be achievable without nuclear power plants.

The European Council’s final memorandum “acknowledged the need to ensure energy security and to respect the right of the member states to decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technologies”. It added: “Some member states have indicated that they use nuclear energy as part of their national energy mix.”

This aimed to reassure those countries which would suffer the most from a transition to clean energy that future nuclear power projects would be eligible for the billions in euros to be made available as part of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s plan. Earlier in 2019, before she was confirmed as president, von der Leyen, a former German defence minister. pledged to introduce a “European Green Deal” within 100 days of taking office, laying out a holistic vision for a just transition that would cut carbon emissions and reverse climate change, while ensuring social justice.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “This explicit nuclear mention was required by the Czech Republic and Poland. I did not need it. But it is true that one can’t ask countries whose domestic production relies for 60 or 70% on coal to switch to all renewable overnight.” He added that the use of nuclear energy is essential to ensure that EU members do not become dependant to natural gas or electricity imports.

In recent weeks, EU countries have been unable to agree on a green finance law called taxonomy aimed at promoting clean and sustainable investment. Differences remain over whether financial products involving nuclear can be labelled as green.

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