Nuclear not ‘strategic’ for EU decarbonisation

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined limits to EU backing for nuclear power under the bloc’s Net-Zero Industry Act, which seeks to support home-made production of clean technologies like batteries and solar panels.

Nuclear can play a role in our decarbonisation effort – this is important. In our Net-Zero Industry Act, a wide set of net-zero technologies – including cutting-edge nuclear – have access to some simplified rules and incentives. But only the net-zero technologies that we deem strategic for the future – like solar panels, batteries and electrolysers, for example – have access to the full advantages and benefits.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

So, the cutting-edge nuclear is in for specific fields, but not for all

The Net-Zero Industry Act, presented last week, lists nuclear power among eight technologies expected to make “a significant contribution to decarbonisation” in Europe.

Alongside solar, wind, batteries and heat pumps, those also include “advanced technologies to produce energy from nuclear processes with minimal waste from the fuel cycle” and “small modular reactors”.

But nuclear does not appear in a separate annex to the regulation, which defines “Strategic Net-Zero technologies” that “will receive particular support” and are subject to a “40% domestic production benchmark” to promote Europe’s homegrown industry.

For such “strategic” industries, total investment needs are expected to amount to “around €92 billion over the period 2023-2030”, with “public funding requirements of €16-18 billion,” the Commission said in a working paper released alongside its Net-Zero Industry Act.

Nuclear is not mentioned once in the Commission’s working paper on “strategic” green industries.

France is leading a push to win greater recognition for nuclear in Europe’s drive to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. Last month, Paris launched an 11-country alliance to promote nuclear as a low-carbon source of electricity and work on “common industrial projects”.

But providing EU funding for nuclear projects would be a step too far for countries like Germany, Austria or Luxembourg, which are opposed to atomic energy.

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