green energy nuclear debate

The green energy nuclear debate is unfolding in Europe in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow and as the European Commission decides on what energy sources are ‘sustainable.’

The European Union (EU) is developing what they call a “taxonomy for sustainable finance” this is like a guide for investors and financial institutions to understand what activities are sustainable and would contribute to meeting the EUs goals to move to a low carbon economy.

There has been mounting pressure from the nuclear industry for nuclear power to be included in the “Sustainable Finance Taxonomy” which would mean nuclear power would be more likely to attract investment. Of course none of this would change the fact the nuclear power is expensive, dirty, dangerous and lacks social license.

The EUs Joint Research Centre – conducted a review of nuclear power considering whether nuclear power “does no harm” with a limited and narrow scope the report has been heavily criticised by environment groups. The nuclear industry has used the JRC report to increase pressure to include nuclear in the taxonomy.

While the JRC report focused on “do no harm” the Commission has 6 environmental objectives defined in the Taxonomy which a sustainable energy source must “substantially contribute to at least one of the six environmental objectives” as well as “do no significant harm to any of the other 5 environmental objectives” and “comply with minimum safeguards.”

I. Climate change mitigation: a company’s impact on the environment
II. Climate change adaptation: the environment’s impact on a company
III. Sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources
IV. Transition to a circular economy, waste prevention and recycling
V. Pollution prevention and control
VI. Protection of healthy ecosystem

In response to the controversy over nuclear the EU Commission has decided to exclude nuclear and gas from the “taxonomy for sustainable finance” which will be tabled on the 21st of April 2021. However the Commission has left the door open to consider gas and nuclear and other transition energies for inclusion in a separate piece of legislation later in 2021.

Why nuclear should not be funded

Nuclear is not economic new investment would lead to a number of new nuclear builds which may prove to be uneconomic and require bail out after bail out. For example in the European Union there are just four new nuclear projects – all have had major cost blow outs and are significantly behind schedule:

The deadline for the startup of unit 3 at France’s Flamanville nuclear power plant has been postponed until 2024 – 12 years later than the original target date. The 1600MWe Flamanville 3 reactor was originally expected to cost €3bn and to be ready in four years. However, the latest estimate from October 2019 puts the cost of the Flamanville EPR project at €12.4bn.

Unit 3 is an EPR reactor and has been under construction since 2005. The start of commercial operation was originally planned for May 2009 the latest estimate for start of regular production is February 2022. In December 2012, the French multi-national building contractor, Areva, estimated that the full cost of building the reactor will be about €8.5 billion, or almost three times the delivery price of €3 billion.

Construction start of two projects dates back 35 years, Mochovce-3 and -4 in Slovakia, and their startup has been further delayed, currently to 2020–2021. Bushehr-2 originally started construction in 1976, that is 44 years ago, and resumed construction in 2019 after a 40-year-long suspension. Grid connection is currently scheduled for 2024.
(World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020, pg. 48).

Nuclear power is not only dangerous, leaves behind a trail of radioactive legacies from uranium mining, processing, reprocessing, nuclear waste and fuel for nuclear weapons, but it is expensive and unable to be deployed quickly. Nuclear is no solution to climate change.