European union say nuclear must be part of European Taxonomy

8 February 2021

Nuclear energy must be part of the European taxonomy as part of of the Green Deal, according to a joint letter sent to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission by 13 European trade unions.

The main unions representing Belgian, Bulgarian, Finnish, French, Hungarian and Romanian workers executives and employees bringing together affiliates from the Energy and Nuclear sectors are seeking to draw its attention to the key role of nuclear electricity production in enabling Europe to achieve carbon neutrality and in contributing to energy independence and the recovery of Europe.

“Nuclear Energy, which produces almost half of the low-carbon electricity in Europe, is jointly recommended by the International Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency,” says the letter. “The intergovernmental platform on climate change has repeatedly stated that Nuclear Energy is an essential part of the solution to the climate problem.”

It notes that a new generation of nuclear reactors and the extension of existing nuclear units have become a priority for many member states and a new generation of small modular reactors (SMR) is emerging. “Investments in the European nuclear industry are necessary to provide this controllable electricity production in addition to intermittent renewable energies, in order to ensure the stability of European electricity networks.”

The letter warns: “If Nuclear Energy were to be disadvantaged in this context, electricity production capacities complementary to renewables would remain based on fossil fuels and would prevent the achievement of low-carbon targets.”

The European Commission (EC) launched an Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth in 2018 followed by a package of measures to achieve it. A Technical Experts Group (TEG) set up by the Commission to look at sustainable finance  published its Taxonomy Technical Report in June 2020, which excluded nuclear   from its list of sustainable economic activities. Then in September the European Council said it would remain technology neutral in its strategy on financing sustainable growth and in December the European Union agreed on a unified classification system to encourage private investment in sustainable growth and contribute to a climate neutral economy.

The taxonomy lists the environmental objectives that should be considered when evaluating the sustainability of an economic activity. To qualify, economic activities must  provide a substantial contribution to a least one of the environmental objectives; do 'no significant harm' to any of the objectives; comply with robust and science-based technical screening criteria; and comply with minimum social and governance safeguards. The EC will be tasked with establishing the final classification by defining technical screening criteria  for each relevant environmental objective and sector. A technical expert group will assist the EC and will be mandated to provide advice for developing and revising the technical screening criteria.

The unions say that, being convinced that nuclear energy is essential to achieve Europe's climate objectives, “our organisations insist on the imperative to include Nuclear Energy in European taxonomy”. The letter continues: “This taxonomy should provide reliable information on activities and technologies contributing to sustainable goals. The exclusion of Nuclear Energy from European taxonomy would have a strong negative impact not only on the nuclear industry but also on all European industries using electricity, in particular electro-intensive industries. This exclusion, if decided, would lead to the important criterion of technological neutrality not being met.”

The unions call for a dialogue “with the aim of creating the conditions for Nuclear Energy to fully play its role and to build a zero-carbon Europe in 2050, economically efficient and socially just”.

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