France leads a group of ten EU countries pushing for nuclear power to be labeled ‘green’, as the continent tries to end its dependence on fossil fuels without wrecking its economy.
The group – which includes Poland, Hungary and Finland – argues that nuclear energy is “essential” to lower energy costs and end Europe’s reliance on foreign imports, while also reducing emissions without becoming overly dependent on renewables.
But they are being opposed by another group led by Germany, which gets about 75 percent of its energy from fossil fuels and will benefit from Russia’s new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – who claim it is unsafe.
Referring to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, nuclear opponents — backed by some environmentalists — say the technology cannot be trusted and factories produce waste that is difficult to dispose of.
The debate is taking place amid a global energy crisis that has depleted supplies of traditional fossil fuels such as coal and gas, pushing prices up, while countries like China and Lebanon face power cuts and rationing.
France leads a group of 10 countries trying to persuade the EU to classify nuclear power as ‘green’, saying it is ‘essential’ to end the bloc’s reliance on foreign imports
France – which gets about 70 percent of its energy from nuclear, has one of the lowest energy costs in Europe and earns £2.5 billion a year as the continent’s largest energy exporter – is leading the battle for the industry to be labeled ‘green’. ‘ to give. ‘
In a joint letter published last weekend, French ministers Bruno Le Maire and Agnes Pannier-Runacher say nuclear energy is “safe and innovative” while being carbon-free.
Renewable energy is also carbon-free, the couple freely admit, but nuclear power is much more reliable and uses technology that has been available for decades.
Renewable energy underproduction, caused by calm winds in Europe, is believed to be at least partially responsible for the current power crisis.
‘[Nuclear] is a clean, safe, independent and competitive source of energy,” they write in a letter sent to major European countries this weekend newspapers.
“It offers Europeans the opportunity to… create thousands of qualified jobs, strengthen our environmental ambitions and ensure Europe’s… energy autonomy,”
The letter was also signed by ministers from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania.
Like France, most signatories generate significant amounts of energy from nuclear power – ranging from 30 to 50 percent – and have pledged to invest billions more in the technology.
Only two – Poland and Croatia – currently have no nuclear power plants.
However, Poland has invested around £30bn in nuclear with its first plant due to be commissioned in 2033.
Meanwhile, Croatia owns a nuclear power plant in neighboring Slovenia, from which it gets 10 percent of its energy, and is supporting plans for a second reactor on the same site.
The group is opposed by, among others, Germany – Europe’s largest coal producer (pictured) which gets 75 percent of its energy from fossil fuels – who claim it is unsafe
Backed by green campaign groups, the anti-nuclear lobby points to disasters like Chernobyl (pictured) to claim the technology cannot be trusted and says it produces harmful waste
By contrast, the opposition group – which includes Germany, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain – generates little or no nuclear power.
The only two countries that have nuclear power plants – Germany and Spain – have both pledged to phase them out, and Germany will close next year.
Austria and Denmark both generate most of their power from renewable energy sources such as hydropower and wind, while Luxembourg imports 95 percent of its energy, which is largely generated from fossil fuels.
All five countries have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions, but plan to do so using renewable energy sources – with Austria aiming to be 100 percent renewable by 2030, relying largely on hydropower generated from rivers.
The nuclear debate is set against the backdrop of the European Green Deal, which aims to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
As part of the deal, the EU has published a list of what activities can be considered ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’.
In the near future, the bloc will force companies and investors to disclose what portion of their operations fall into this category in an effort to put the worst offenders to shame.
Nuclear energy is currently not on the list of ‘green’ activities, although the EU is discussing this and aims to take a decision before the end of the year.
A scientific paper published earlier this year by the bloc’s advisers found that nuclear power produces no more carbon than popular renewables.
However, campaigners are still pushing back for safety reasons, claiming that renewable energy is the better solution.
The energy supply in Europe has been high on the news agendas in recent weeks, prompted by a serious gas shortage.
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) is soon to announce a major energy policy in which nuclear energy is expected to play a major role, while outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) is lobbied to open a new gas pipeline with Russia
The shortage – caused by low production last year during Covid shutdowns and a spike in demand this year as it waned – has led prices to surge amid blackout warnings.
European leaders have been forced to turn to Russia, which sits on the world’s largest gas reserves, for a replenishment – but supplies have failed to materialize.
That has led to accusations that Vladimir Putin is deliberately throttling supplies for political influence, as his energy minister suggested opening the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would help resolve the crisis.
The pipeline – which was completed earlier this year – would bring gas to Europe via Germany, bypassing Poland and Ukraine and taking their revenues away.
But experts say that Russia’s pre-existing pipes have more than enough spare capacity, and Nord Stream 2 is simply being used as a bargaining chip.
The issue of the pipeline is expected to top the agenda when EU leaders meet on Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is vehemently against it.
“This summit will take place in a very tense atmosphere,” said Leonid Litra, an analyst at New Europe Centre, a think tank in Kiev.
Ukraine — in conflict with Russia since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea — wants to ensure it remains a key gas transit country, earning about $1 billion a year from maintaining the route.
European Council leader Charles Michel and European Commission leader Ursula von der Leyen will try to “assure” Ukraine’s president that Ukraine will remain a transit country, an official said.
President Putin stressed last week that his priority was not to put Ukraine “in a difficult position” but to be an “absolutely reliable partner” of Europe.
At the same time, the Kremlin chief said Ukraine’s gas pipelines had not been repaired “for decades” and that increasing supplies through the post-Soviet country could lead to “negative consequences.”
Fossil fuel shortages – caused by Covid lockdowns – have led to sharp rises in gas prices in Europe amid warnings that bills could rise significantly
“Something could burst at any moment,” Putin said.
Moscow has not booked additional gas transit capacity through Ukraine to Europe before October, which is a cause for concern.
Russia denies any pressure and says it will have to replenish its own reserves for the winter before it can send supplies to Europe.
Since 2014, the Ukrainian army has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country in a conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
Kiev accuses Europe of embarrassment when it comes to Russia, be it gas, military cooperation or Ukraine’s prospects of integration into NATO and the European Union.
Europe, for its part, has repeatedly called on Kiev to step up efforts to fight corruption and reform Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt judicial system.
“We are going to encourage our Ukrainian friends to go a little faster,” the European official said.
The summit will also be an opportunity for Europeans to “reaffirm their commitment to strengthening Ukraine’s political association and economic integration with the EU,” the official added.
“There are tensions and grievances on both sides,” and Ukraine feels “ignored,” says Litra of the New Europe Center think tank.