Thursday

2nd Feb 2023

Opinion

Gas and nuclear: a lose-lose scenario for Eastern Europe

  • Several inherent risks of nuclear energy, from the disaster potential, to waste management over hundreds of thousands of years, or uranium mining, were not properly addressed in the report commissioned by the European Commission (Photo: IAEA Imagebank)
Listen to article

After a year-long fight over the classification of fossil gas and nuclear energy under the EU taxonomy, the Delegate Act defining whether they're considered as a sustainable investment will finally be released next week by the European Commission.

Yet a last major battle is taking place this Thursday (16 December) in Brussels. The 27 EU leaders will have a final word at the last European Council of the year on whether fossil gas and nuclear should be part of the EU list of environmentally-sustainable economic activities.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The battle lines are drawn: on one side France supporting nuclear with Poland, the Czech Republic and other Eastern partners who, for the most part, are for the inclusion of fossil gas in the EU green labelling; on the other side Italy, Spain, Denmark, Austria and Luxembourg, who are clearly opposed to considering any of them as a sustainable investment.

Paradoxically, central and eastern European governments have been very vocal in advocating for the inclusion of fossil gas on the EU green investment list, while they have most at stake in terms of climate, energy prices and energy sovereignty.

Debunking the gas fairy tale

Eastern Europe's love affair with climate-wrecking fossil gas lies in the fable that it can help them to break with an even more toxic relationship, the one with coal.

If we consider the whole gas supply chain including methane emissions, whose impact on climate change is 84 times greater than CO2, generating power with gas can turn even worse for the climate than coal.

This is why the inclusion of gas-fired power would seriously compromise the EU Sustainable Taxonomy's ability to act as an independently and scientifically designed tool for guiding investment into environmentally sustainable activities. Accordingly, the IEA net-zero by 2050 pathway stresses that there is no remaining carbon budget for new gas investments at all and that existing gas-fired power plants will have to be phased out by 2035 in the OECD and 2040 globally.

The Paris Agreement Compatible Scenario produced by EEB and CAN Europe shows that an immediate leap-frogging from coal to renewable electricity generation is technically feasible without fossil gas and nuclear. Now that gas prices are reaching record peaks and driving up the cost of all energy, it is time to bet on solar and wind energy, whose generation costs are cheaper than those of coal and fossil gas.

This energy model also proves that 100-percent renewables electricity supply is possible by 2040 through a rapid mobilisation of energy savings potentials, accelerating deep renovation of buildings and modernisation of industrial production processes, greater use of circular economy solutions, and a swift ramping up of domestic renewable energy with smart grids and battery storage.

Moreover, as long as fossil gas remains a part of central and eastern countries' energy mix, their citizens will continue to suffer electricity price shocks due to global speculation, volatility and geopolitical factors (more than 40 percent of EU's gas import comes from Russia). Despite this well-known energy context, some Eastern EU leaders are trying to instrumentalise the current energy price crisis to call for more fossil gas and less climate action. The taxonomy should not be a vehicle for this.

Nuclear gamble 'does harm'

The potential contribution of nuclear power to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is as clear as its non-sustainable nature due to severe safety risks, environmental pollution, huge time investment and the unsolved waste problem.

Several inherent risks of nuclear energy, from the disaster potential, to waste management over hundreds of thousands of years, or uranium mining, were not properly addressed in the broadly-criticised report of the Joint Research Centre commissioned by the European Commission to back a decision on the EU taxonomy. It seems obvious that the current nuclear technology cannot ensure the "do no significant harm" EU principle.

Economically, investing in new nuclear plants does not pay off. Newly added capacities are not realistic due to high investment, competition of renewables and time costs.

For example, the Catalan government estimated that with the same budget of 19 billion euros used for the construction of the new nuclear reactor Flamanville 3 in France, they could invest in photovoltaic solar energy that would generate around 5 times more electricity and be operational in a quarter of the time.

Granting nuclear and fossil gas the label of sustainability would undermine the EU's climate targets, divert much-needed green investments in Central and Eastern Europe and jeopardise the credibility of the entire European Green Deal.

The EU taxonomy should create clarity for companies, investors and policymakers about which activities can be considered sustainable, prevent greenwashing, and help shift investments where they are most needed.

Weak European sustainable financing rules would particularly impact those economies lagging behind in the transition toward climate neutrality. The EU taxonomy is therefore one of the most important policy tools to get right and enable a post-fossil energy transition in the central and eastern sides of the bloc.

Author bio

Patrick ten Brink is deputy secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau, the largest European network of green NGOs. This article was written in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Development (Poland), Clean Air Action Group (Hungary), Climate Coalition (Slovakia), Umanotera (Slovenia) and Green Liberty (Latvia).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Germany tells France: 'nuclear is not green'

The new German government will not support French plans to label nuclear energy as 'green', foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said in Paris on Thursday.

Lawyers threaten action over new EU gas and nuclear rules

Environmental lawyers are threatening to take legal action against the European Commission if gas is included in the EU guidelines for sustainable finances. But the draft taxonomy has also triggered discontent among some EU national capitals and MEPs.

Critics attack Commission's New Year's Eve nuclear and gas plan

The European Commission has been accused of undermining public scrutiny of its plans to label natural gas and nuclear as a "green" investment - after it published its long-awaited proposal on New Year's Eve when "nobody was watching".

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

More money, more problems in EU answer to US green subsidies

Industrial energy-intense sectors, outside Germany and France, will not move to the US. They will go bust, as they cannot compete in a fragmented single market. So to save industry in two member states, we will kill the rest?

Latest News

  1. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  2. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  3. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  4. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  5. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU
  6. EU green industry plan could spark 'dangerous subsidy race'
  7. Wolves should be defended, EU ministers urge
  8. EU Commission wants drones for Bulgaria on Turkey border

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us