February 21. 2024. 8:23

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Paris irked by nuclear’s ambivalent status in EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act


France asked EU member states to decide “once and for all” whether nuclear power is an asset for the bloc’s decarbonisation ahead of an EU summit that opened in Brussels on Thursday (23 March).

On 16 March, the European Commission unveiled its draft Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA), aiming to ensure that the EU meets 40% of its clean technology development needs with domestic production capacity by 2030.

The text lists nuclear among other clean technologies – a move branded as a “positive political signal” by nuclear advocates.

The move was also noted by the office of the French President, which briefed the press on Tuesday ahead of this week’s two-day EU summit.

While “the negotiation has only just begun”, it is still necessary to “widen the scope of technologies covered, since nuclear technologies are only partially covered in this regulation”, the Elysée said.

The Commission proposal itself only mentions “advanced technologies to produce energy from nuclear processes with minimal waste from the fuel cycle” as well as “small modular reactors”, thus ignoring the existing nuclear power France is trying to redevelop and impose in the European political debate.

However, nuclear is only listed as a technology that “will make a significant contribution to decarbonisation” and not among the “strategic” technologies listed in the annex to the text, which “will receive particular support and are subject to the 40% domestic production benchmark,” according to the European Commission.

“Nuclear can play a role in our decarbonisation effort – this is important,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday evening, after the first day of the EU summit, where discussions focused on the EU’s response to US green subsidies.

“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,” she added.

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

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.

Parliament battle opening up

However, this partial recognition of nuclear power is an irritant for France and its nuclear industry.

“The American IRA, which largely motivates the ambitions of the NZIA, does not differentiate between future technologies,” said Valérie Faudon, a representative of the French Nuclear Energy Society.

The debate that will open in the European Parliament to amend the Commission’s Net-Zero Industry Act will therefore be crucial for France.

“The battle will in fact be fought over the content of the annex, which is absolutely decisive,” confirmed the office of François-Xavier Bellamy, head of the French delegation to the European People’s Party (EPP-right).

Even before the negotiations, however, centrist MEP Christophe Grudler (Renew) told EURACTIV France he was confident about the outcome, given the wide support for nuclear among a majority of lawmakers in the European Parliament.

A growing number of EU member states are in favour of the development of nuclear power and their delegations in the European Parliament should not be out of line.

While Germany is not one of them, “senior German EPP officials are in favour of technological neutrality and therefore do not want to exclude any technology. Including nuclear,” a source close to the German delegation of the EPP, the largest Euro-parliamentary delegation, told EURACTIV Germany.

The source did not specify whether they support nuclear as a “strategic” technology or merely as a technology making “a significant contribution to decarbonisation”.

France looking to liberal Netherlands in push for nuclear revival

Paris is looking towards “liberal” allies such as the Netherlands to revive its nuclear industry, French Green MP Julie Laernoes told EURACTIV, after the country’s National Assembly approved a bill seeking to build six new reactors.

‘The battle will be bitter’

In other words, nothing is yet certain, and “the battle will be bitter,” said Marie Toussaint, an anti-nuclear Green MEP.

For now, “the compromises in the existing [NZIA] text confirm a very strong European resistance to Emmanuel Macron’s ultra-nuclear project,” she told EURACTIV.

And with the EU Council examining the proposal after Parliament, there is no doubt that Germany and its anti-nuclear allies, notably Luxembourg and Austria, will raise the issue again.

For these countries, it is difficult to accept that taxpayers’ money should finance the development of new nuclear power stations in the EU – even indirectly, through the EU budget.

However, France is irritated by this “heterogeneous” treatment of nuclear energy.

Ahead of the EU Council summit, where the subject will be discussed, the Élysée Palace asked that member states “decide once and for all whether we believe that nuclear energy plays a role in decarbonisation or not”.

“Either we say yes and it must be included in all the texts. Or we say no”.

EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act sends ‘positive signal’ for nuclear, advocates say

After a series of twists and turns, the European Commission finally decided to include nuclear power in its proposed Net-Zero Industry Act – a “positive political signal” for nuclear advocates even if they remain wary about the detail of the text.