March 4. 2024. 11:30

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Paris plots response to von der Leyen’s ‘unfortunate’ comments on nuclear

The office of French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher slammed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s recent comments about nuclear not being “strategic” for EU decarbonisation and is planning a counter-offensive at the EU energy ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (28 March).

Nuclear power, whether existing or in development, is not mentioned in the list of “strategic” technologies listed in the European Commission’s Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA), presented on 16 March.

Ahead of an EU summit last week, the French President’s office called for clarity on the matter, urging member states to decide “once and for all” whether nuclear power is an asset for the bloc’s decarbonisation or not.

Von der Leyen responded after the first day of the summit, saying: “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” – which is not the case for nuclear power.

These comments only stoked further tensions with Paris.

Von der Leyen: 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.

EU not ‘consistent’ on tech neutrality

At a press conference after the EU summit on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron reminded the EU’s legally-binding objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

“Obviously, there are renewable energies and France is investing massively in their deployment,” the French President said. However, “we know that renewable energies cannot be enough and that nuclear energy is a necessary part of the answer at the European level,” he added.

“This is what corresponds to the very spirit of our treaties – respecting each other’s energy mixes but preserving a principle of technological neutrality enshrined in the European treaties”.

Speaking on Monday (27 March) before a meeting of the EU’s Energy Council in Brussels, the office of French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher drove the point home.

The Commission president’s comments were “unfortunate” and “clearly not consistent with the climate challenge to which nuclear power and renewables are intended to respond,” the minister’s office said, recalling that the strategic nature of nuclear power is recognised “without ambiguity” in the EURATOM Treaty‘s preamble.

According to Paris, it is a matter of consistency in implementing the principle of technological neutrality, which the European Commission is applying to e-fuels, at the demand of Germany.

Applying this principle to e-fuels “on the grounds of technological neutrality, but refusing to do so with already existing nuclear power is inconsistent”, the French energy minister’s office minister said.

France-Germany energy tensions loom over EU summit

A burgeoning row between France and Germany fired by differences over nuclear energy and combustion engines threatens to spill over into a gathering of the 27 European Union leaders on Thursday (23 March).

Nuclear alliance

Faced with Brussels’ reservations on nuclear power, Pannier-Runacher will bring together the 11 member states taking part in the nuclear alliance set in motion at the last EU summit in Stockholm.

The gathering of pro-nuclear countries will take place in Brussels on Tuesday morning (28 March), in preparation of a wider meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels starting at 10.00 CET.

Italy, which did not take part in the first meeting of the alliance, is now considering to participate, EURACTIV understands.

Together, these countries form a blocking minority on the gas directive and the Renewable Energies Directive, which are currently being negotiated at EU level.

On Wednesday, EU legislators will attempt to reach a final agreement on renewables, including the thorny issue of whether to include nuclear-derived hydrogen in the calculation of the EU’s green transport goals.

Eleven EU countries launch alliance for nuclear power in Europe

Signatories committed on Tuesday (28 February) to “cooperate more closely” across the entire nuclear supply chain, and promote “common industrial projects” in new generation capacity as well as new technologies like small reactors.