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4th Dec 2022

Feature

Nuclear lobby forgot to invite critics to Romania's EU debate

  • EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete featured as a headliner at the event, co-organised by two nuclear lobby groups (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Some 75 people showed up last month at an event organised at Romania's EU embassy - its so-called 'permanent representation' in Brussels.

The topic was 'How to create a climate-friendly future in Europe'.

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  • During the first six months of 2019, Romania holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU - the powerful EU institution representing national governments (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The sponsors were Foratom and Romatom, two nuclear lobby organisations.

Foratom calls itself "the voice of the European nuclear industry" and represents 15 national nuclear associations, including Romatom, which is a lobby group representing Romanian nuclear companies.

Their message was clear.

It was written on a banner next to the speakers' lectern at the event on 19 February, which said: "Nuclear energy is essential to an EU low-carbon future".

The nuclear lobby gave its message extra weight by attaching it to the six-month Romanian presidency of the EU Council.

But there was one thing missing - anyone with an even mildly critical view of nuclear energy.

"I have not received any invitation and as far as we can see nobody in our office has," Klaus Rohrig, a green campaigner, told EUobserver afterwards.

Rohrig is the EU climate and energy policy coordinator at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, one of the leading environmental NGOs in the 'Brussels bubble'.

"It is very likely that one of us would have gone to such an event [if there had been invitations], given its troubling focus on nuclear [energy] in the context of the EU's long-term strategy," said Rohrig.

The nuclear sector's impact on climate change is far smaller than that of fossil fuels, but many, though not all, environmentalists are still critical of atomic energy.

"Nuclear energy is the most expensive form of electricity production and has massive environmental costs," Sebastian Mang, EU climate and energy policy adviser at Greenpeace, another leading NGO, told EUobserver.

But Mang also missed the Romanian EU presidency event because Greenpeace was also not invited.

"When discussing climate change people protecting the environment must have a voice," said Mang.

EUobserver and a handful of other media were invited, according to a list of participants, which was distributed at the event. The invitation came in an email sent from a Foratom domain name.

But the debate was not publicly announced on the Romanian permanent representation's website, nor on the websites of Foratom or Romatom.

The participants list - which also included people who registered, but who did not show up - consisted of 32 percent of people working for private companies.

Some 28 percent of registered participants came from one of the member states' permanent representations in Brussels, while another 12 percent came from national ministries.

Around 13 percent of registrations came from employees of the European Commission.

There were no registrations from civil society representatives, unless one counted the handful of representatives of non-profit nuclear energy research institutes.

Teodor Chirica is president of Foratom.

In an interview during the coffee break, Chirica told EUobserver that Foratom had sent out the invitations for the event.

Chirica said it was Foratom which suggested to Romania's energy ministry to help in organising the event.

"The ministry of energy was happy with this and here we are," he said.

He noted that diplomats from several member states, with nuclear energy in their portfolios, were present.

"They have something to think about [after the event]," he said.

But Chirica could not explain why environmental groups were not invited because he was not involved in the day-to-day planning, he said.

"I don't have the right answer to this," he said.

During the reception afterwards, informal responses from other Foratom employees suggested the absence of civil society was more due to oversight than malign intentions.

But the event also posed other questions about the decision by Romania to outsource part of the organisation of an EU presidency meeting to an industry lobby group.

"For this event, the Romanian presidency of the EU council aimed at fostering discussions with a variety of stakeholders in the energy sector," a spokeswoman for the Romanian presidency told EUobserver.

"Given that the focus was on low-carbon technologies speakers included organisations representing various sources of energy. We had a broad attendance from member states, EU officials, as well as press representatives," she said.

EUobserver asked the spokeswoman whether Romania had given the nuclear lobby group instructions on who to invite, and whether it regretted that there were no voices representing civil society.

But she did not directly address those questions in her emailed reply.

"As a priority for the Romanian presidency of the EU council, this event is part of a series of open debates, both in formal and informal council formations and stakeholder events, on the topic of a long-term climate strategy," she said.

She also confirmed what a pro-transparency NGO in Brussels, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), had recently warned about.

"As a common practice for presidencies of the EU council, this has been a jointly organised event, where the workload and logistics was shared amongst the different partners," the Romanian spokeswoman noted.

The event was held just two weeks after CEO published a report on lobbying via the temporary EU presidencies, in which it said corporate sponsorship of rotating presidencies "now appears to be standard".

The presidencies were "a target for lobbies both before and during the presidency, as a way to influence its agenda and to curry favour", the report said.

EU member states have also use the presidency to promote national industries, the report added.

Climate scenarios

The idea of the nuclear lobby event at the Romanian embassy was to frame nuclear energy as part of the "Solutions for a 2050 carbon-free Europe", as the meeting was titled.

Regardless of it being in the nuclear sector's interests, there are important independent voices which say the same, including the UN's influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Last October, the IPCC published a report on how to stave off the worst effects of global warming by limiting average temperature increase to 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels.

In most of its 1.5C-scenarios, the share of nuclear energy in electricity generation was expected to increase.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has also said nuclear power's "potential to contribute to power sector decarbonisation is significant".

The IEA however also acknowledged that citizens' concerns over safety issues "remain an obstacle to development" of more nuclear energy.

'No point' imposing nuclear power

The lobby-sponsored event focused on scenarios and modelling, but did not address public attitudes towards nuclear power.

In his closing remarks, Foratom's director-general Yves Desbazeille acknowledged the importance of public acceptance when asked about the issue by this website.

"Obviously we are not going to do anything without having the public with us. There is no point of imposing anything," said Desbazeille.

The event organisers did little for that cause with their invitations policy.

But this week the Romanian presidency said it held a meeting with environmental groups about the EU's long-term climate strategy and "other environmental subjects" in a chink of light to NGOs.

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