EU moves to name nuclear a ‘green’ energy source

By Mike Hayes18 January 2022

Nuclear and gas energy projects could benefit from sustainable financing under proposal

The European Commission (EC) has released a draft document to European member states, outlining its plan to classify some nuclear energy projects within its Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance.

European Commission plans to include nuclear projects in ‘green’ finance taxonomy. Picture courtesy Adobe Images

This means three types of nuclear construction activity could now receive so-called ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) financing, intended to aid projects that promote the reduction of carbon emissions throughout the bloc.

The three classified types are:

  • demonstration units for advanced nuclear technologies;
  • the construction of new nuclear power plants using best available technologies;
  • electricity generation from existing nuclear installations

In the EC proposal, new nuclear projects seeking ESG financing must fulfil specific criteria, including taking measures to protect facilities against hazards including flooding and extreme weather, a threshold for lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and plans for the disposal of high-level waste.

A full notification and reporting process to the Commission will also need to be in place.

Proposals for the taxonomy also include gas projects, with the Commission saying there should be recognition for the fact that “fossil gas and nuclear energy sectors can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Union’s economy”.

In the case of nuclear power, the Commission said, “evidence on the potential substantial contribution of nuclear energy to climate mitigation objectives was extensive and clear”.

Yet some experts advising on the taxonomy have voiced concern about the new plans to include nuclear and gas in the plan say there are opportunities for projects to make promises about carbon reduction, then fail to keep them.

Nathan Fabian, who chairs the expert group, told news agency Reuters, “The new criteria do have weaknesses that mean that they’re not well suited to sustainable finance products,” adding “it’s possible to have very high emissions in the start and then for the asset simply to fall out of taxonomy alignment later in its life but still operate.”

A spokesperson for the Commission told the European news site Euractiv, which had early sight of the proposal, that the taxonomy would only include projects that show a genuine commitment to improving sustainability, adding, “The inclusion of nuclear or natural gas comes with clear and tight conditions associated with its use in line with our climate targets and with safeguards against significant environmental harm.”

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