The European Commission must acknowledge the "critical role" that nuclear energy has to play under its sustainable finance initiative, European nuclear trade body Foratom said yesterday. The Commission, it said, should reconsider its decision to exclude nuclear from economic activities covered by the initiative.
The Commission is examining how to integrate sustainability considerations into its financial policy framework in order to mobilise finance for sustainable growth. It says the current financial system needs to be better aligned with EU policies and foster investments that support the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient, more resource efficient and circular economy, while avoiding "further degradation of our natural capital and preserving financial stability".
It launched its Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth in March 2018, and adopted a package of measures in May 2018 implementing several key actions announced in that plan. In July 2018, a Technical Experts Group (TEG) on sustainable finance set up by the Commission began assisting it in developing a unified classification system for sustainable economic activities.
The TEG published its Taxonomy Technical Report in June this year. Nuclear energy, however, was excluded from the list of sustainable economic activities.
Foratom said yesterday it believes the decision to not include nuclear "at this stage in the taxonomy" should be reviewed as it is in "total contradiction with EU climate policy". It added that much still needs to be done in order to ensure that the principle of technology neutrality is maintained.
"Nuclear power provides a strong beneficial contribution to four out of the six sustainability criteria established by the Technical Expert Group," said Foratom. "At the same time, nuclear power and its associated fuel cycle does not, over all of its life-cycle, significantly harm any of the criteria."
In a position statement, Foratom notes that while the TEG report "clearly outlines the six criteria to be used in identifying whether a technology is sustainable or not, the same cannot be said for the Do No Significant Harm (DNSH) criteria." It says there criteria remain "very vague" and, as a result, can be applied differently depending on the desired outcome.
"In the case of nuclear, for example, the DNSH group have focused on the issue of waste and used it as an excuse to exclude this low carbon technology from the taxonomy," Foratom said. "For other technologies, however, the waste criteria do not appear to have been applied in the same way."
Foratom said that in order to identify whether an energy source is sustainable or not, it is important to evaluate each source on the basis of objective criteria (including CO2 emissions, air pollution, raw material consumption and land use impacts) and using a whole life-cycle approach.
There is clear evidence, it said, that nuclear power meets the six criteria outlined in the report. Foratom notes that nuclear: contributes significantly to climate change mitigation; is not sensitive to changes in the weather when compared with other low-carbon power sources; has a very limited impact on water and marine resources; requires a much lower volume of raw materials to produce the same amount of power than other low-carbon sources; the recycling of used nuclear fuel may be expanded to make better use of uranium resources while disposal solutions do exist for radioactive waste; nuclear does not emit any CO2 when generating electricity and only limited volumes of other air pollutants; and, it has a very limited land and biodiversity footprint.
"Nuclear power is one of the most sustainable energy technologies available today," Foratom concludes in its position statement. "It is one of the most valuable technologies known to mankind in creating a environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future."
Yves Desbazeille, director general of Foratom, said: "Foratom supports the European Commission's goal of creating a sustainable finance initiative for technologies that can help Europe decarbonise its economy. However, this initiative should not aim to exclude a particular technology without providing a valid justification."
The 128 nuclear power reactors (with a combined capacity of 119 GWe) operating in 14 of the 28 EU member states account for over one-quarter of the electricity generated in the whole of the EU. Nuclear accounts for 53% of the EU's carbon-free electricity.