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What’s on the table for nuclear in the final months of 2020
Yves Desbazeille, FORATOM Director General
The summer season in Brussels is officially over. This means the revival of regular activities across all EU institutions, which – as always – have a very ambitious agenda to follow as far as planned and announced initiatives, activities and files to be concluded by the end of this year are concerned.
But not everywhere has the summer break been as calm as in Brussels. This summer was – once again – a very difficult time from a climate perspective. Indeed, many parts of the world have witnessed severe heat waves – a period of abnormally hot weather which we will have to get used to due to the ongoing climate crisis. If the world doesn’t do anything to tackle climate change, the risk of having more and more intensive heat waves will increase. Nuclear energy has a significant role to play not only in mitigating climate change, but also during situations like the one witnessed this summer. The state of California in the US gives us a perfect example of the importance of nuclear energy especially in the context of security of energy supply. The recent heat wave resulted in the first blackouts in California since 2001. One of the reasons why grid operators had to impose blackouts was insufficient solar and wind generation which couldn’t be balanced due to the fact that the state had decided to phase out nuclear energy – the largest and most reliable low-carbon source of energy in the US. California’s example shows that variable renewables cannot meet the grid’s power demand on their own. They need a partner to guarantee that electricity supply will be secured. The European Commission should draw conclusions from this lesson and ensure that security of energy supply will maintain the key factor while discussing the bloc’s future energy mix.
Of course, 2020 has been an even more challenging year because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis that has totally reshaped the way we live. And yet, once again nuclear energy has proven its key role in keeping Europe’s lights on. The overall operation of all nuclear reactors has continued without any impact on the supply of electricity and the European nuclear fleet is currently responsible for generating more than 1/4 of electricity in the European Union.
Also, in recent months we noted that more and more EU Member States have started to be more vocal about the importance of nuclear energy, announcing their nuclear plans. A few weeks ago, the Polish government published its draft version of the revised Polish Nuclear Energy Programme which includes plans to build 6 nuclear reactors. The UK has been discussing reviving its Wylfa nuclear project. Also, nuclear new-build projects are moving forward in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
All these elements prove that nuclear energy should play an important part in discussions on the EU’s future energy mix. That’s why in the coming months FORATOM will focus on the following topics:
- EU Post-COVID19 Recovery Plan
The COVID19 crisis is having a profound impact on Europe. The EU’s recovery plan must therefore focus on solutions which will help Europe come out of the crisis. Investing in clean technologies will help create growth and jobs. Nuclear meets all these criteria: it is a European technology, with a European supply chain, capable of providing Europe with the low-carbon energy it needs, when its needs it.
That is why FORATOM will work on ensuring that the EU’s post-COVID19 recovery will: (1) ensure security of supply, (2) pay sufficient attention to European technologies which create jobs and growth in the EU, (3) ensure it will achieve its decarbonisation goals using all low-carbon technologies available now.
- EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy
FORATOM has welcomed the European Commission’s recent decision to appoint the Joint Research Centre as the group of experts which will assess nuclear under the EU sustainable finance taxonomy. The Commission has made it clear that the assessment should be scientifically rigorous, transparent, balanced and reflect the principle of technology neutrality. This decision shows that the Commission has taken seriously recommendations that nuclear should be assessed by scientific experts. At FORATOM, we will work to ensure that a robust, scientific assessment of nuclear will lead to the inclusion of the EU’s largest source of low-carbon electricity under the sustainable finance initiative.
- EU Industrial Strategy
FORATOM supports the goal of ensuring Europe’s industry is fit for the ambitions of today and prepared for the realities of tomorrow, as outlined in the Commission’s Industrial Strategy. FORATOM will work on emphasizing that the EU nuclear industry stands ready to help Europe achieve its goals as it can help: (1) maintain the competitiveness of Europe’s industry as energy often accounts for a significant share of manufacturing costs, (2) decarbonise industry and thus contribute towards the 2050 carbon neutrality target, (3) provide industry with the energy it needs when it needs it, (4) help other industries by offering alternative sources of decarbonised energy such as hydrogen and heat (sector coupling).
FORATOM has taken note of the two strategies released in relation to smart sector integration and hydrogen. FORATOM, as a new member of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, will work on ensuring that nuclear energy has a role to play in the context of the hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe.
These are the most important files which will have an impact on the future energy mix of the European Union, but not the only ones. As the European Union is currently working on a number of files, in which nuclear role should be emphasized, it’s key to keep being active and keep highlighting the pros of nuclear in this context and this is something that FORATOM will focus on in the upcoming months.