By Frédéric Simon
(EurActiv) — A group of five EU member states led by Germany have sent a letter to the European Commission asking for nuclear energy to be kept out of the EU’s green finance taxonomy.
The letter – signed by the environment or energy ministers of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain – points to “shortcomings” in a report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre published on 2 April, which concluded that nuclear energy is safe.
“Nuclear power is incompatible with the Taxonomy Regulation’s ‘do no significant harm’ principle,” the ministers wrote, urging the Commission to keep nuclear out of the EU’s green finance rules.
“We are concerned that including nuclear power in the Taxonomy would permanently damage its integrity, credibility and therefore its usefulness,” they warned.
The letter is undated but EURACTIV understands it was sent to the Commission on Wednesday (30 June). Signatories include: Svenja Schulze (Germany), Leonore Gewessler (Austria), Dan Jørgensen and Simon Kollerup (Denmark), Carole Dieschbourg (Luxembourg), Teresa Ribera Rodríguez and Nadia Calviño Santamaría (Spain).
It argues that the European Commission’s assessment of the safety of nuclear power installations is flawed.
“We were disconcerted to learn that in the opinion of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), there were no indications that the high-risk technology that is nuclear power is more damaging to human health and to the environment than other forms of energy generation, such as wind and solar energy,” the ministers wrote.
“Nuclear power, however, is a high-risk technology – wind energy is not. This essential difference must be taken into account,” they insisted, saying the Commission report deliberately ignored the possibility of a serious incident.
The European Commission’s in-house scientific body, the Joint Research Centre, released its much-awaited report on nuclear power on 2 April, just before the Easter break.
Its conclusions were clear: nuclear power is a safe, low-carbon energy source comparable to wind and hydropower, and as such, it qualifies for a green investment label under the EU’s green finance taxonomy.
“The analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies,” the JRC report said.
Nuclear energy advocates saw the report as a green light for a potential nuclear renaissance in Europe and called on the European Commission to take the necessary steps to include nuclear in the taxonomy.
A green investment label under the EU taxonomy would lower the cost of new nuclear projects, said Jessica Johnson, communications director at Foratom, the trade association representing the nuclear industry in Brussels.
But the five EU countries dispute this, saying the inclusion of nuclear in the taxonomy would undermine its credibility.
“Many savers and investors would lose faith in financial products marketed as ‘sustainable’ if they had to fear that by buying these products they would be financing activities in the area of nuclear power,” the ministers warned.
In addition, the letter said the JRC report also “disregards the life-cycle approach” to environmental risk assessment when it comes to geological storage of nuclear waste.
“After more than 60 years of using nuclear power, not one single fuel element has been permanently disposed of anywhere in the world,” the letter pointed out, saying there is currently “no operational experience with deep geological repositories for high active waste”.
The European Commission had three months to submit the JRC report to the scrutiny of two expert committees – the first on radiation protection and waste management under Article 31 of the Euratom Treaty, and the second on environmental impact by the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks.
Those evaluations are expected to be made public today.
They will be “rigorous,” an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV at the time, saying that “the credibility of this assessment is crucial.”