More than 100 scientists and environmentalists have signed a letter to the European Commission (EC) calling for a timely and just assessment of nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy. 

The letter, addressed to EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and two European Commission vice-presidents, Valdis Dombrovskis and Frans Timmermans, was sent by acting president of the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP), Satu Helynen.

The letter follows the announcement in March of the final recommendations on the EU Taxonomy by a technical expert group (TEG) advising the European Commission on sustainable finance. These recommendations did not define nuclear as a low-carbon and sustainable electricity source.

The publication prompted seven utilities to urge the EC to create an independent group of scientists and experts to evaluate as nuclear power is a low-carbon and sustainable source of electricity.

SNETP, set up in 2007 with EC support, is, a group of non-governmental organisations which promotes and coordinates research on nuclear fission.

"We are a group of scientists and environmentalists representing academia and civil society who strongly support the goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050," the letter said. It noted that SNETP has welcomed and embraced both the 2018 Long-Term Strategy – Clean Planet for All – and the 2019 European Green Deal, and welcomed the initiatives and instruments proposed for the financial sector to enable the green transition.

"The Taxonomy Regulation, once implemented, should provide investors with reliable information on which activities and technologies contribute to the sustainability goals," the letter said.

"It will be a crucial tool for investors to guide finance in the right direction and, as such, needs to be designed carefully and thoughtfully," it added.

The scientists said they "fully agree" with the conclusions of the Clean Planet for All communication, which acknowledges that nuclear power and renewables will form the backbone of a carbon-free European power system.

"Both can provide European industries and households with low-carbon energy and substantially improve air quality for European Citizens."

In the letter the scientists noted that the TEG on Taxonomy concluded that there is evidence that nuclear substantially contributes to climate mitigation. But it found that currently "the evidence about nuclear energy is complex and more difficult to evaluate in a taxonomy context" regarding the potential significant harm to other environmental objectives.

"With the debate around nuclear energy often being primarily political and emotive, it is essential that assessing the Do No Significant Harm (DNSH) criterion for nuclear remains strictly technical, evidence-based and is conducted by qualified experts," the letter said.

Noting that some anti-nuclear groups are calling for the exclusion of nuclear from the list of sustainable activities under the Taxonomy, the letter said “as scientists and researchers, we feel the need to clarify some of the statements used to discredit the nuclear sector”.

These included:

  • Nuclear currently provides more than 47% of low-carbon electricity generation in the EU;
  • Life-cycle emissions produced by nuclear compare favourably with those from renewables technologies:
  • An analysis of recognised Levelised Cost of Energy figures shows that nuclear energy is competitive with other low-carbon power sources;
  • With a strong, positive regulatory framework, there is huge potential to decrease build time and cost of new nuclear projects;
  • Nuclear can be flexible and does not undermine the deployment of renewables;
  • Flexible nuclear power plant operation can help add more wind and solar to the grid;
  •  Nuclear plants are protected against rising sea levels and flooding;
  • Both IAEA and EU regulatory frameworks ensure that nuclear power plants comply with the highest safety standards;
  • The nuclear industry, in cooperation with regulators, have identified and, in some cases, started to deliver facilities for the safe, long-term disposal of nuclear waste.

"We call on the Commission to follow-up on the TEG Report and enable a 'just' and timely expert assessment of nuclear power regarding the DNSH criteria," the letter noted.

"This assessment must be based on scientific evidence and should not be influenced by any political or ideological agenda," it said.