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10th Dec 2022

MEPs vote to include nuclear investments under RepowerEU

  • MEPs from the industry committee voted to include nuclear and low-carbon hydrogen projects to the list eligible for finance under an EU green fund (Photo: Štěpán Ryšavý)
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MEPs from the industry committee on Thursday (13 October) voted to include nuclear and low-carbon projects to the list eligible for finance under an EU green fund, with 32 in favour, 22 against, and three abstentions.

The amendment, tabled by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the deeply-conservative European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) and hard-right Identity (ID) parties, relaxes the concept of environmental harmlessness.

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As specified under the bloc's "do no significant harm" principle, no projects financed with EU recovery money should negatively affect any of the EU's Green Deal environmental objectives, which include climate change mitigation and preventing pollution.

Concretely, the amendment would allow member states to apply for loans for the lifetime extension of nuclear power plants "for as long as the Union's energy security is not recovered."

In May, the EU Commission earmarked €300bn to decrease dependence on Russian fuels by saving energy, primarily for energy-saving projects, such as insulating homes and public buildings, and increasing the share of solar and wind power.

Last week the 27 energy ministers reached a deal to add €20bn to the so-called RepowerEU plan.

Now it is up to the parliament to propose amendments to the file for negotiations with the commission and the council, who will have to agree on a final version of the document "as soon as possible."

But the proposed addition of nuclear energy projects to the RepowerEU plan could run into fierce resistance in the other legislative bodies.

Austria last Friday formally announced it is to sue the commission over its December decision to allow certain nuclear investments as "transitional economic activities" under its taxonomy, a comprehensive labelling system for green investments.

Although the commission this time around did not include nuclear under RepowerEU, a formal parliamentary position to include it could complicate negotiations.

The proposal will first be looked at by the budget committee, which can still significantly alter the text and will go up for a general parliamentary vote in Strasbourg on 9 November.

Blue hydrogen

The amendments proposed by the industrial committee also add low-carbon hydrogen, or blue hydrogen, to the text and calls to increase its production and uptake.

Touted as clean because the gas burned to produce hydrogen is sequestered, EUobserver previously reported the technology has not yielded the results promised by proponents, such as Shell.

Cornell and Stanford University researchers have found that blue-hydrogen emissions are 20-percent greater than using either natural gas or coal directly, or about 60-percent greater than using diesel oil for heat.

But conservative MEP Markus Pieper in February proposed to include fossil hydrogen as a renewable energy source under the EU's Renewable Energy Directive.

This followed intense lobbying efforts by Hydrogen4EU, a group funded by Shell, BP, Exxon and Total, who spread a widely-circulated report describing blue hydrogen as "clean energy" that produces little-to-no greenhouse gas emissions. The group envisioned 28 blue hydrogen projects in Europe.

"This would increase European gas use by 154bn cubic metres a year," Dominic Eagleton, a senior gas campaigner at Global Witness, previously told EUobserver.

More investments in blue hydrogen would "increase dependency on gas imports, undermining RepowerEU's core objective," Eagleton said.

Included in the amendments was a list of gas projects to be financed with RepowerEU funds, which includes a second LNG terminal in Poland and a project to allow gas flows between France and Germany.

"The vote on REPowerEU today was a real disaster for future generations in the EU," Greens MEP Henrike Hahn, a member of the industrial committee, told EUobserver in an email. "The adopted compromise tabled by the centre and extreme right will allow financing of oil and gas infrastructure as well as nuclear energy framed as 'low carbon energy.'"

"It seems that even the war in Ukraine has no effect on some political decision-makers to realize that investing and depending on dinosaur technologies deeply threatens our European interests and security concerns," she added.

Analysis

Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?

The EU plans to label natural gas as 'green' in sustainable investment rules. From 2026 it will have to be blended with low-carbon gases like green hydrogen - but many scientists warn this is inefficient, costly and damaging to health.

Austria sues EU commission over labelling gas and nuclear 'green'

Austria has launched legal action against the European Commission for the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the EU sustainable investment rules. Vienna is now seeking support from other member states to join procedures against the so-called EU taxonomy.

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