As part of its objective of carbon neutrality set for 2050, the European Commission unveiled, at the end of December, its plan to recognize nuclear power and gas as sustainable energies. The goal? Include them in the European “green taxonomy”. A highly sensitive subject in Europe, it revives the debate on the civilian use of nuclear power and gas as transition energies.
Claire Riobé – Vatican City
Are nuclear and gas two sources of energy? “green”? If the question causes so much debate on the European scene, it is because its answer will determine the inclusion, or not, of these two sources of energy in the taxonomy. “green” European. Adopted in 2020 within the EU, this new tool for classifying environmentally friendly economic activities now serves as a “label vertwith financiers. It would give the nuclear and gas industries access to new private and public subsidies, intended to encourage activities that do not aggravate climate change.
For: the use of civilian nuclear power, “it would be a mistake to deprive yourself of it”
According to some supporters of the European project, the debate comes up against a question of semantics. “The adjective green means nothing, everyone has their own definition of what is green or not. […] Nuclear may not be ‘green’ energy in the pure sense of the term, but it is a transition activity, which has its place in the European taxonomy. says Alexandre Grillat. The National Secretary of CFE-CGC Energies, France’s second-largest trade union for the electricity and gas industries, has been supporting the inclusion of gas and civil nuclear energy in the European taxonomy for two years.
“Decarbonization is an imperative in the face of the climate emergency, and it means using all the means at our disposal”, he advances. “The production of electricity via nuclear or gas, especially if it is renewable, is one of these means of reducing CO2 emissions. It would be a climatic error to deprive oneself of it”. France, which today derives more than 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy, is, along with Poland and Hungary, one of the main defenders of the European project.
Alexandre Grillat sees an obvious advantage in this objective: “Including nuclear and gas in the taxonomy will make it possible to receive private investment financing at attractive rates, as well as public financing. In the medium and long term, this guarantees the future of nuclear power in Europe.”
Vs: «Neither gas nor nuclear correspond to the criteria of the European green taxonomy»
However, from its creation, the European taxonomy was developed on the basis of scientific and objective criteria which immediately excluded nuclear and gas energies. “Gas is clearly a fossil fuel, no scientist will tell you that it is a green or sustainable asset. And nuclear power poses problems with regard to the treatment of radioactive waste and safety,” denounces Philippe Zaouati, former member of a group of experts on sustainable finance of the European Commission.
Now managing director of the Mirova company, he says “his very strong support” to the taxonomy tool, but denounces the political and financial pressure exerted by certain pro-nuclear and gas European countries within the Commission. “If we look at this subject only with the climate axis, nuclear power effectively meets the European objective of decarbonization, because this energy is low in greenhouse gas emissions. […]. But for an energy to be eligible for the taxonomy, it must not only be positive for the climate, but also that it has no significant negative impact for other environmental issues, which is not not the case».
The massive consumption of water, used to cool the reactors of power plants, is also regularly singled out by environmental NGOs. Neither nuclear power nor gas correspond to the green criteria currently imposed by the taxonomy. “All this does not mean that we should stop funding nuclear power, or that countries like France are not legitimate. We are simply repeating that gas, like nuclear, cannot and should not be included in the list of European ‘green’ assets”, concludes Philippe Zaouati.
Definition of an energy “green”
One question remains at the center of the debate: is energy green only because it does not emit greenhouse gases? Of all the technologies developed, nuclear technology is certainly among the least polluting, and among those which have only a very small impact on global warming. “The role of science, technology and innovation within the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can be supported by various nuclear technologies and their application […], and thus promote integral development by improving our stewardship of God’s creation”, said Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher, on September 17, 2018, at the 62nd international conference of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
However, it is difficult to exclude from the debate the risks linked both to the safety of power plants and to nuclear waste. “When possible risks for the environment, which affect the common good, present and future, appear, this situation requires that the decisions are based on a confrontation between the risks and the foreseeable benefits for any possible alternative choice. This is especially true if a project may result in […] the production of waste. […] Some projects that are not sufficiently analyzed can profoundly affect the quality of life in an environment for a wide variety of reasons, such as […] the use of nuclear energy”, can we read in the encyclical Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis.
In terms of safety, it is interesting to note that in 1982, four years before the accident at the Chernobyl power station, Saint John Paul II, while reaffirming “the full legitimacy, nobility and usefulness of scientific research, including in the field of high energies and nuclear physics”, already stated that “in the field of peaceful applications of nuclear energy, the technique will therefore always require additional caution”. Civil nuclear energy is therefore not banned. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church encourages the development of “alternative energies” fossil fuels and “raising the safety levels of nuclear energy”.
Emphasizing the search is also the position expressed by Pope Francis during the press conference on the flight which brought him back from his apostolic trip to Japan, on November 26, 2019: “The use of nuclear energy is very ‘borderline’, because we have not yet reached total security”.
Finally, unlike renewable energies such as water, air and the sun, nuclear energy, produced by the fission of the atom, has a direct impact on human life. The Chernobyl (April 26, 1986) and Fukujima (March 11, 2011) accidents have unfortunately demonstrated this.
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