On the 2nd of February the Commission published a Taxonomy Complementary Climate Delegated Act that will lead to the inclusion of certain nuclear activities into the EU Taxonomy. Admittedly, the European Council and the European Parliament could still object to the Act during the scrutiny period that is now ongoing, but the probability that the required majorities (72% of Member States, meaning at least 20 Member States representing at least 65% of the EU population in the European Council and/or a minimum of 353 MEPs objecting in the European Parliament) for this are met is more than doubtful.
So, which nuclear-related activities are to be included in the EU Taxonomy then? The activities can be grouped into three categories namely
Research, development, demonstration and deployment of advanced technologies (“Generation IV”) that minimise waste and improve safety standards;
New nuclear plant projects with existing best-available technologies for energy generation of electricity or heat (“Generation III+”) and
Upgrades and modifications of existing nuclear plants for lifetime extension purposes.
As apparent from this overview, the scope of nuclear-related activities to be included is quite broad and therefore it is understandable, that there was wide-spread debate about this decision, questioning whether it would not undermine the goals of the Green Deal, and challenge the credibility of the EU Taxonomy. When assessing such criticism, and when looking at the history of the drafting exercises that led to the eventual Complementary Climate Delegated Act, a number of questions come to one’s mind, which will be the focus of the remainder of this post.
Does it really make sense to provide a legal framework that enables steering of investments towards the prolongation of up to 40+ year-old nuclear powerplants for another 10 – 20 years?
Can research into new technologies and support for Generation III+ and Generation IV reactors really make a meaningful contribution to reach the EU’s 2050 target, given the current state of research and the duration of permitting, planning and building processes before a nuclear power plant becomes operational?
Is it really enough to accept the currently existing safety regimes as a sufficient safeguard against major nuclear accidents without analysing in more details its proper implementation and effectiveness?
Is it a sufficient basis for the inclusion of nuclear related activities to say that there is no science-based evidence that nuclear energy creates more harm than any other already accepted technology under the EU Taxonomy does?
Can any assessment that remains silent with regard to the role of and need for an adequate European liability regime draw any comprehensive conclusions as to the sustainability and desirability of nuclear power from a societal point of view?
It is up to every individual reader of this post to answer these questions, though they will not matter as an answer was already found. It will, however, matter how the revised EU Taxonomy once in force will be implemented by those in charge thereof: Market players and investors. And in that regard, it can only be hoped that this implementation and the final investment decisions taken under the EU Taxonomy will be more in line with its original spirit and the European Green Deal, as true political support for its objectives currently seems to be too much to be expected.