Nuclear power divides major powers at EU Summit

The debate about whether the EU should promote nuclear power projects as a way of becoming greener and more energy independent resurfaced at the final EU Summit of the year in Brussels.

France has asked for nuclear power to be included in the so-called EU taxonomy by the end of the year, but has faced strong opposition from Germany and other members that want nuclear power to be ineligible for green financing.

“We are talking about countries with different business models. It’s important that each EU country can pursue its own approach without Europe becoming disunited,” recently installed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

“At the end of the day, we will have to come together despite the different priorities we may have set.”

Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants are due to go offline next year. France derives about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy.

Last month, Macron announced that France will start building its first new nuclear reactors in decades. Unveiling the plans, he said the new reactors will help guarantee France’s energy independence and help reach carbon neutrality in 2050.

“It’s not a Franco-German discussion,” Macron said during the press conference. “There are different energy models in different European countries. What we want to achieve is agree on a taxonomy that allows us to continue with our industrial policy and to be coherent in decarbonizing our economies.”

Two years ago, EU leaders agreed that nuclear could be part of the bloc’s solution to making its economy carbon neutral by 2050. Leaving the possibility of using nuclear energy in their national energy mixes reassured the bloc’s coal-reliant countries, which are expected to suffer the most during the transition.

However, making future nuclear power projects eligible for billions in euros available as part of the European Green Deal while avoiding so-called greenwashing remains a controversial issue.

Countries that want nuclear power to remain ineligble for green financing often cite the EU’s guidance that all investments financed by the pandemic recovery fund should not harm the bloc’s environmental goals.

“The lack of agreement shows how lively this is, not only in our country, but throughout Europe,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who faces a domestic crisis over how to phase out nuclear plants and still maintain national energy security.

De Croo suggested that amid the current energy price crunch, nuclear energy and gas could be temporarily eligible for funds.

“You have to be able to look sufficiently ahead, and if you do so you can assume that technologies like nuclear and gas can be useful technologies in the medium term to bridge the gap until we have fully sustainable energy,” De Croo said.

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