Paris, Berlin divided over nuclear’s recognition as green energy

"France will advocate that nuclear energy should be part of this eco-label," said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire at the conference to replenish the Green Fund at the end of October. "We cannot succeed in the ecological transition, and we cannot achieve our goal in terms of combating global warming without nuclear energy," the minister said. [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

Disagreement on the inclusion of nuclear power in the EU’s upcoming green finance taxonomy has revived long-standing divisions between France and Germany over the energy transition. EURACTIV France reports.

Franco-German relations have already been strained by French President Emmanuel Macron’s radical comments on NATO’s “brain death,” which attracted strong rebukes in Berlin.

Now, the European Commission’s proposed taxonomy for sustainable finance has emerged as a new bone of contention.

Tabled in 2018, the EU taxonomy aims to determine which economic activities can benefit from a sustainable finance label at European level. The objective is to give clear indications to investors so they can redirect their financing towards environmentally-friendly sectors.

Six pre-defined environmental objectives must be met in order to obtain the label. If any technology seriously undermines one of those goals, it is automatically disqualified.

It is because of this double level of control that nuclear energy failed to win the green label in the European Parliament, until the Council representing EU member states voted to reinstate it in September.

Council maintains nuclear as eligible for ‘green’ finance

EU ministers have decided not to exclude nuclear projects from a sustainable finance classification scheme, despite opposition from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and the European Parliament.

Although nuclear energy largely meets the low-carbon emissions objective, “it was not possible to include nuclear power because there is no scientific evidence for waste treatment. This means that the sector does not meet both requirements,” explained  Jochen Krimphoff, WWF’s deputy director for green finance.

Since the beginning of the negotiations on the EU’s taxonomy, France has been pushing to reintroduce nuclear power, much to Germany’s dismay.

“France will advocate that nuclear energy should be part of this eco-label,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire at the conference to replenish the Green Fund at the end of October.

“We cannot succeed in the ecological transition, and we cannot achieve our goal in terms of combating global warming without nuclear energy,” the French minister said.

Nuclear power ‘dead and alive’, S&P proclaims

Growing competition from cheap renewable electricity, safety concerns, and rising costs of new plants are slowly driving nuclear power over the edge – except in Russia and China where the industry continues to enjoy extensive state support, S&P said.

France’s position on nuclear, supported by the Czech Republic and a handful of Eastern European member states, has considerably strained relations with Germany, which is fiercely opposed to giving nuclear energy the green label.

“Nuclear energy is nor safe and sustainable nor cost-effective,” said German State Secretary for Energy, Andreas Feicht, during a September meeting of EU energy ministers. “So we reject the idea of EU money to extend the life of nuclear power stations,” he said.

Other European countries such as Luxembourg, Austria, Italy and Malta are also opposed to nuclear power’s recognition under the scheme.

“France wants to impose nuclear power in the taxonomy, which is upsetting the talks on the subject at the risk of causing them to fail. Why is France seeking to push forward such issues, which are toxic for European cooperation? ” wondered Pierre Cannet, an expert on climate and energy issues at WWF France.

The move is all the more surprising given France’s rather progressive positions on the taxonomy. For example, Paris has, like the Commission and Parliament, been calling for the taxonomy to enter into force as early as 2020, while the Council has advocated for implementation in 2023.

For its part, Germany would not be opposed to labeling gas as green. This could be at the risk of a deal that would see both gas and nuclear power re-entering the scheme.

Gas industry storms into EU green finance taxonomy debate

Industry executives argue fossil gas should be considered green when it displaces coal in power generation, sparking fresh controversy around an upcoming EU sustainable finance taxonomy aimed at rewarding investments in clean technologies.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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