EU divided over nuclear and renewables

As EU leaders prepare to make unprecedented commitments to cut greenhouse-gas emissions at a summit this week, divisions have emerged over whether to recognise nuclear as a low-carbon source, alongside wind power and other ‘green’ energies.

EU heads of state and governments are set to endorse a ‘unilateral’ goal to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 at a summit in Brussels on 8-9 March, a target which would eventually be raised to 30% should other developed nations such as the United States take similar steps.

But while the decision is likely to be hailed as historic, divisions have appeared over how to achieve the objective and on whether to make a target on renewable energies legally binding.

The German Presidency, backed by the European Commission and a group of countries including the UK are pushing for 20% of the EU’s overall energy consumption to come from renewable sources such as wind power by 2020.

But other countries, led by France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, argue that nuclear power should be brought into the equation and recognised as a low-carbon energy source if that target is to be met.

“The objective of 20% renewable energy in 2020 is… something that can only be achieved if you include in the figure the contribution of nuclear energy,” Ernest-Antoine Seillière, president of lobby group BusinessEurope, told Reuters.

British officials indicated that the UK would not oppose the low-carbon wording if the German Presidency made a proposal in that direction. “The presidency will have to find a formula that narrows the differences. There are sensitivities on both sides,” one official said on 7 March.

However, such a move is strongly resisted by anti-nuclear countries such as Austria. “The attempt by the nuclear industry to put separate ‘low-carbon’ targets on the agenda is a red herring,” said Claude Turmes, a Green MEP and spokesperson on energy matters. 

“The French proposal for a 40-45% ‘low-carbon’ target by 2020 does not fly at all,” Turmes argued, saying that “this would require the building of at least one new nuclear reactor every three to six months between 2012 and 2020. This is simply impossible.”

The summit is however set to agree on a binding target to have a minimum of 10% overall transport fuel consumption coming from biofuels by 2020.

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