June 23. 2024. 2:24

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IEA chief calls for ‘serious self-criticism’ among EU’s nuclear opponents

EU member states opposed to nuclear energy “will have to sit down and do some serious self-criticism” once the Ukraine war is over, said Fatih Birol, the director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Russia’s war in Ukraine turned Europe’s energy landscape on its head, leading to a drastic drop in Russian gas exports to the EU and exacerbating an energy price crisis that began with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides this, the current situation in Europe is also due to “two major strategic mistakes” made by some member states and the EU institutions, Birol told a conference at Science-Po Paris on 5 April.

While the institutions made the mistake of being “cold on nuclear power”, some member states have been guilty of putting “their eggs in the same basket, namely Russia”, the IEA director said in response to a question from EURACTIV.

On this last point, Birol points to the naivety of public authorities, particularly in Germany.

“I remember many discussions with the German government and many people interested in the subject who said that even during the Cold War, Russia never cut off gas,” he said.

Nuclear-phase out strains German coalition

Infighting in the German government between the Greens and the liberal FDP over the phase-out of nuclear energy intensified over the weekend, with the government failing to reach a compromise.

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Need for ‘serious self-criticism’

“When the dust settles from this crisis of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I think European governments – especially some of them – will have to sit down and do some serious self-criticism of their energy policies,” he said, targeting member states who oppose nuclear.

Birol praised Germany for putting its nuclear phase-out programme on hold until the end of April, but said it could delay it for longer.

In mid-October, Birol told EU energy ministers that “Europe will get through this winter, but the next one will be more difficult” as filling gas stocks will be even more challenging despite a common EU policy to make this compulsory.

In any case, Birol sees nuclear power as an asset for decarbonisation.

In a report published in June 2022, the IEA predicts that global nuclear power capacity will have doubled by 2050 and will play “an important role […] towards the ‘zero emission’ goal”.

“Nuclear energy is back in the spotlight, and in a big way,” Birol noted at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt last year.

For example, South Korea is reviving its nuclear energy programme, while Japan is doing the same despite the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Birol conceded, however, that if nuclear power is to be part of the equation, tomorrow’s leading energy source will be renewables.

These are “energies of peace” that will make the EU less dependent on oil and gas exporting countries that are often run by authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, he argues.

As such, the Turkish economist warmly welcomed the efforts made by Europeans since the outbreak of the Ukraine war.

“This is the moment to say bravo to the people, to the industrialists and the leaders for the efforts made,” be it regarding sanctions or the efforts made to speed up the development of clean energies, he added.

Why the EU needs bold and broad strategies for critical minerals

As the EU nurtures its clean energy manufacturing ambitions, the reliance on imports of critical materials remains a cause for concern in many Member States, write Fatih Birol and Pascal Canfin.