After a series of twists and turns, the European Commission finally decided to include nuclear power in its proposed Net-Zero Industry Act – a “positive political signal” for nuclear advocates even if they remain wary about the detail of the text.

Read the original French article here.

On Thursday (16 March), the European Commission unveiled its proposal for a Net-Zero Industry Act, setting out an EU target of domestically producing at least 40% of the technology needed to achieve the bloc’s climate and energy targets by 2030.

In addition to other policy initiatives, the proposed regulation “is part of the European response to the IRA” – the US Inflation Reduction Act – according to EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, who spoke at a press conference introducing the proposal on Thursday.

With a view to reinvigorating EU industry, the text lists eight “technologies that will make a significant contribution to decarbonisation” and are eligible for support.

These includes solar, wind, batteries and storage, as well as heat pumps, and nuclear.

“And yes, we have been able to converge on the need to cover nuclear in this proposal. Because it is time to go beyond ideologies”, Breton added.

Timmermans 4

Nuclear half-in

France has already welcomed the inclusion of nuclear even if its addition happened at the last minute after a nail-biting scenario.

When the document was first leaked to the press, nuclear was high on the list. But in the days that followed, doubts gradually crept in.

On Tuesday (15 March), The Financial Times reported that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Breton wrangled with EU Climate Chief Frans Timmermans and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager over whether to include nuclear power.

Discussions were even reported to have lasted until a few minutes before the text was presented, according to news website Politico.

The Commissioners ultimately reached a compromise to include “advanced technologies to produce energy from nuclear processes with minimal waste from the fuel cycle, small modular reactors” are part of the list of technologies making a “significant contribution to decarbonisation”.

However, this also means that existing nuclear technologies, such as the French second-generation pressurised water reactors that France wishes to develop, are excluded from the text.

And crucially, nuclear doesn’t appear in a separate annex to the regulation, which defines “Strategic Net-Zero technologies” that “will be receive particular support” and are subject to the 40% domestic production benchmark.

Nuclear is in the definition of ‘net-zero technologies’ (art 3) : « advanced technologies to produce energy from nuclear processes with minimal waste from the fuel cycle, SMR, and related best-in-class fuels » . BUT is is not in the annex listing « strategic » technologies.

— Anna Hubert 🇪🇺 (@AnnaHbrt) March 16, 2023

For now though, “the main thing is for nuclear power to be in the text,” said Christophe Grudler, a French lawmaker from the Renew group in the European Parliament.

The French nuclear industry is still worried, however.

“The fact second and third generation [nuclear reactor] technologies are not included […] shows blockages at the top of the Commission,” said Erkki Maillard, director of European affairs at French utility EDF.

“It’s an open-door to competitors from outside Europe who are, for example, already established in Poland, such as the American Westinghouse, South Korea’s KHNP and Britain’s Rolls Royce,” a source in the French nuclear industry told EURACTIV.

Still, Maillard remained broadly positive and hailed the “positive political signal” sent by the inclusion of nuclear in the Commission’s proposal.

Grudler too was broadly confident, saying the text could still be improved by the European Parliament and EU member states.

“There are still negotiations to be done before an agreement is reached. The European Parliament will take the lead and improve the text, especially on the inclusion of existing nuclear power,” he told EURACTIV.

Uncertainty on future technologies

Beyond the open questions on existing nuclear, uncertainty prevails regarding the inclusion of nuclear in the annex listing “strategic net zero technologies” that will receive particular support.

Asked about this at a press conference, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans simply replied that the College of Commissioners retained a “neutral position” on technology choices, referring “exactly to the wording of the EU’s green taxonomy” which identifies sustainable economic activities eligible for a sustainable finance label.

At the press conference, Timmermans also appealed to pro-nuclear member states to not “make an ideological choice” but “do the maths”, stating that “renewable energies are getting cheaper almost every day, which is not the case for nuclear”.


[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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