The leaders of seven European Union (EU) states on 19 March wrote to the European Commission (EC) seeking more support for the role of nuclear power in EU climate and energy policy. The letter, which was published on 25 March, was addressed to EC president Ursula von der Leyen, executive vice-president Frans Timmermans, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, and Mairead McGuinness, Ccommissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. It was signed by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, French President Emmanuel Macron, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Romanian Prime Minister Florin Cîțu, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič, and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša.

While expressing appreciation for EU efforts to promote climate-neutrality by 2050, and the target of a net domestic reduction of at least 55% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the signatories noted their concern “that the path that is currently determined to achieve this goal leaves little room for internal policy making according to country specific conditions”.

The letter said: “We are convinced that all available zero and low-emission technologies that contribute to climate neutrality while supporting other energy policy objectives should not only be recognised but also actively supported by the European Union. This is especially valid for nuclear power whose development is one of the primary objectives of the Treaty establishing the Euratom Community, obliging EU institutions to promote it.”

It added that the EC, in its state aid decisions, “recognised the development of nuclear power as an objective of common interest, even though it may not be pursued by all Member States, while the Court of Justice of the EU, i.e. in a recent judgment on the Hinkley Point C project, confirmed that nuclear energy may benefit from State aid pursuant to Article 107(3)(c) TFEU, and that nuclear energy does not compromise the environmental objectives of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU”.

While every EU Member State “is free to develop nuclear power or refrain from it in mutual respect and regardless of policy choices of other Member States”, development of nuclear sector in the EU “is contested by a number of Member States despite its indispensable contribution to fighting climate change, as well as the breadth of yet unexploited synergies between the nuclear and renewable technologies”. The letter continues: “As low-emission baseload, it guarantees the continued renewable deployment to much higher penetration levels. Nuclear power seems to be also a very promising source of low-carbon hydrogen at an affordable price and can play an important role in energy sector integration. It also generates a considerable number of stable, quality jobs, which will be important in the post-COVID recession.”

The signatories of the letter said they were “highly concerned that the Member State’s right to choose between different energy sources and the right to determine the general structure of the energy supply (Article 194 TFEU) is currently heavily limited by EU policy making, which excludes nuclear power from more and more policies”.

While appreciating EU support for nuclear R&D through recent political agreements about ITER and the Euratom R&D Programme, “concentrating on technologies to be commercially applicable post 2050 as well as decommissioning activities and safety enhancements without an appropriate framework for nuclear new build could gradually phase out nuclear power and existing nuclear technologies, which will result in a significant loss of high quality jobs in many European countries”. They added: “This is a great concern not only for nuclear new build but also to associated investments like adapting existing plants to hydrogen generation.”

The letter noted that all Member States “are making the policy choices in the field of energy fully in line with EU law, including the Euratom Treaty”, which “is yet another argument of our urgent call to ensure a true level-playing field for nuclear power in the EU without excluding it from EU climate and energy policies and incentives”. It should also be borne in mind “that half of EU countries utilise or develop nuclear power providing close to half of EU low-emission generation, in line with the most stringent safety standards as ensured by the Euratom framework”.

While welcoming “the recent statement by Vice-President Timmermans for IEA's Big Ideas underlining the Commission’s technology neutrality”, the signatories called on the EC “to ensure that the EU energy and climate policy accommodates all paths to climate neutrality according to the technology neutrality principle”.

The letter concluded: “In this context, all available and future zero and low-emission technologies have to be treated equally within all policies, including taxonomy of sustainable investments, aiming at achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Reiterating our strong commitment to the green transition, we remain open to further exchange of views with you on this highly important topic.”