Macron, Orban urge EU to ‘actively support’ nuclear power

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) greets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as he arrives at the Elysée Palace in Paris. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

A group of seven European leaders fronted by French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the European Commission to stop hindering nuclear power and consider ways of bringing atomic energy into the EU’s green finance rule book ahead of an EU summit on Thursday (25 March).

In a letter addressed to the EU executive, the seven leaders openly declared their support for nuclear power in meeting the EU’s climate goals.

“We are convinced that all available zero and low-emission technologies that contribute to climate neutrality … should not only be recognised but also actively supported by the European Union,” the signatories wrote.

“This is especially valid for nuclear power, whose development is one of the primary objectives of the Treaty establishing the Euratom Community, obliging EU institutions to promote it,” said the letter dated 19 March.

Signatories include the leaders of the Czech Republic (Andrej Babiš), France (Emmanuel Macron), Hungary (Viktor Orban), Poland (Mateusz Morawieck), Romania (Florin Cîțu), Slovakia (Igor Matovič), and Slovenia (Janez Janša).

Austria and Germany are opposed to nuclear power, pointing to the environmental risks posed by radioactive waste.

Nuclear is also in principle excluded from the EU’s green finance taxonomy because of the ‘Do no Significant Harm’ criteria, which bars technologies from receiving a green investment label if they undermine environmental objectives like pollution prevention and control.

But the letter argues that opting for nuclear is a decision that every EU country is free to make, “in mutual respect and regardless of policy choices of other member states.”

Polandthe Czech Republic, and Bulgaria are planning to build new nuclear reactors to decrease their reliance on coal and meet the EU’s climate goals. France, for its part, has launched an ambitious programme to replace some of its ageing nuclear plants with a new generation of pressurised water reactors, called EPR. Finland and Britain also have EPRs under construction but the costs have soared amid delays and safety issues.

The cost of finance for new nuclear build is a growing concern for the industry. Last month, the nuclear industry lobby group Foratom expressed worries that nuclear power risks being excluded from the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy rule book.

“The big issue for us with the taxonomy is that it will enable eligible companies to have access to bonds and funds that have a lower interest rate,” said Jessica Johnson, communications director at Foratom, the trade association representing the nuclear industry in Brussels.

“It means that the cost of finance could potentially be lower if they have access to these funds because the amount of interest they will have to pay back is a lot less,” she told journalists during an online press briefing on 9 February.

Nuclear faces ‘a lot of uncertainty’ as EU green evaluation looms

The industry is growing increasingly nervous about European Commission plans to evaluate the safety of radioactive waste handling as an expert report is expected next month on how to classify nuclear energy under the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

In their letter, the seven leaders expressed concerns that EU policies are currently limiting the development of new nuclear plants, calling for “an appropriate framework for nuclear new build.”

“We call on the European Commission to ensure that the EU energy and climate policy accommodates all paths to climate neutrality according to the technology neutrality principle,” the signatories wrote.

“In this context, all available and future zero and low-emission technologies have to be treated equally within all policies, including taxonomy of sustainable investments, aiming at achieving climate neutrality by 2050,” it says.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

> Read the full letter below or download here.

Nuclear letter march 2021

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