Is Nuclear Power Set for a European Renaissance?

Is Nuclear Power Set for a European Renaissance?by Paul Messad*

Nuclear power is making a comeback on the EU energy scene after an eventful 2022-2023 year, which according to Paris, reflects an “excellent diplomatic record” for France in defending atomic energy. EURACTIV looks at the bigger picture

After three years of intense negotiations, nuclear energy officially joined the list of “transitional” energies in the EU’s green taxonomy on 1 January 2023.

Following the vote confirming the European Parliament’s position on the issue in July 2022, the co-chair of the United Left group, Manon Aubry, warned that this decision is “fraught with meaning […] for future deadlines and votes on climate issues”.

However, with the effects of the energy crisis, driven by the war in Ukraine, EU countries – all of whom have collectively decided to steer away from Russian gas – have become more willing to open up to nuclear.

In France and eastern EU countries in particular, nuclear power is increasingly being viewed as a viable solution for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Renewables at EU level

Yet, the development of renewable energies remains the top priority at the EU level.

On 18 May 2022, three months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission proposed raising the EU’s renewable energy target to 45% by 2030, a target later endorsed by the European Parliament in September of that year.

In the Council, France adopted a rather unusual stance, backing the 45% target but only if countries with low-carbon electricity mixes – code for nuclear – are awarded a lower target.

The idea was rejected, and the target was consequently lowered to 42.5% in a political agreement reached with the European Parliament on the third revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III).

While none are particularly happy with the solution, the discussions showcased the newfound influence of pro-nuclear countries on institutional negotiations at the EU level.

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*Reporter, Energy & Environment

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