May 23. 2024. 8:07

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Thierry Breton wants ‘Nuclear Technologies Act’

European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton announced his wish for a new EU Nuclear Technologies Act, as part of efforts to develop an integrated nuclear industry in Europe.

To achieve the EU goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, a larger proportion of Europe’s energy mix will be electricity. Commission modelling estimates that electricity demand will increase by 57-79% by 2040.

To date, the EU has long-focused on stimulating renewable electricity production, with a dedicated directive and deployment targets.

Arecent focus on industrial strategy for clean technologies led to an action plan for wind power, and a forthcoming Solar Charter.

Europe’s historic split on nuclear power has meant that EU involvement in the sector has been focused on safety and waste decommissioning via initiatives such as the Euratom Research and Training Programme.

European funds are also dedicated to the development of the early-stage nuclear fission (rather than the classic fission) technology.

However the 2022 energy crisis triggered calls for greater EU support for nuclear fusion. The Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has emerged as a vocal champion of the sector.

High on ambition but limited details for now

The Frenchman first pitched his “Nuclear energy act” concept on Tuesday (8 April) in front of lawmakers from the European parliament energy and industry, and International Trade committees.

He doubled down on this proposal on Thursday (10 April) at an industry event organised by Euractiv in Brussels.

In his view, it is now necessary to take nuclear power to “another level”, as it “has a central role to play in the complex equation [between] security, sustainability and competitiveness”.

Breton argued for greater European research and innovation into “the safest nuclear technologies in the world” as an integral part of any future EU initiative to promote the sector.

For the moment, the specifics of the initiative are unclear, including the timing.

However, “it is absolutely welcome,” the CEO state-owned French energy company EDF Luc Rémont told Euractiv after the event. He was also quick to emphasise that nuclear “is a European industry” – much of the support for nuclear has been driven by French interests.

Public funding

The nuclear industry has recently formed its own alliance, centred on the development of innovative new nuclear technologies, such as small nuclear reactors (SMRs) and advanced nuclear reactors (AMRs). The alliance aims to pool resources and demands in order to facilitate the emergence of these new technologies.

The alliance also seeks to put pressure on European public authorities – with a specific plea for more public support, starting with the nationals and EU funds. Cheap loans from European Investment Bank are a particular target.

“Having Europe through EIB taking a stance that, ‘yes, we are willing to put in very long term debt capital into a project’ that would be a big signal also for other financing to come in“, Markus Rauramo, CEO of Finnish state-owned utility Fortum said during the Euractiv event.

For the time being, the bank remains cautious, according to EIB Vice-President Thomas Östros.

“Until 2030, our priority will be renewable energies”, Östros said during the nuclear energy summit at the end of March in Brussels.

Read more with Euractiv

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