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Europe Plans to Say Nuclear Power and Natural Gas Are Green Investments via New York Times

The draft proposal could help unleash a wave of investment, but critics say both sources of energy cause damage to the environment.

By Liz Alderman and Monika PronczukPublished Jan. 2, 2022Updated Jan. 4, 2022

The European Union has drawn up plans to classify some nuclear power and natural gas plants as green investments that can help Europe cut planet-warming emissions, a landmark proposal that, if approved, could set off a resurgence of nuclear energy on the continent in the coming decades.

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draft legal text circulated in Brussels over the weekend seeks to strike a middle ground. The proposal would deem natural gas and nuclear power as “transitional” green energy sources to be used to bridge countries’ moves away from coal and carbon-emitting power toward clean energy technologies like wind and solar.

Nuclear power would be considered a sustainable investment if countries can safely dispose of radioactive waste — one of the biggest concerns for the German-led bloc. New plants would be considered sustainable investments through 2045 and would have to undergo safety upgrades during their lifetime to ensure “the highest achievable safety standards,” according to the draft.

Natural gas plants would be deemed “transitional” green energy sources for investment purposes if they meet certain emissions criteria and replace more polluting fossil fuel plants.

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Mr. Eickhout added: “It would also send the wrong signal to the world. If Europe starts calling an investment in gas green, then what exactly is the reason for the African Union not to go fully into gas as well?”

He said the debate has become “a proxy fight” among national leaders for the future of energy in the bloc.

Of the two technologies, however, nuclear power has arguably been the most politically fraught issue.

France led a coalition this year that included nations in Eastern Europe — the continent’s most coal-dependent region — to get nuclear energy and natural gas classified as sustainable investments. Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are among the countries that want to attract more investment for nuclear power as they move away from fossil fuels.

Germany, on the other side, along with Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal and Denmark have expressed concerns about a buildup of nuclear power plants and the radioactive waste they produce.

“Different visions of low-carbon transition made it up to the political agenda,” said Alexander Lehmann, head of the Sustainable World Academy at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. “The costs of the transition begin to sink in on people, so diametrically opposed energy policies have become clearer,” he said. “It has brought key oppositions out in the open.”

Including nuclear and gas energy in Europe’s sustainable investment rule book — known as a green taxonomy — could have significant implications at home and abroad.

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Sandrine Dixson-Declève, a co-president of the Club of Rome and a member of the panel that advised the European Commission on nuclear and natural gas, said that neither power source could be considered green.

The advisory body, known as the European Commission Advisory Platform on Sustainable Finance, concluded earlier this year that nuclear power plants posed risks of “significant harm” to the environment because of the radioactive waste they generate and concerns over the safety of storing it, she said.

“We couldn’t give it a clean bill of health,” she said.

Tsvetelina Kuzmanova, an expert on sustainable finance and a policy adviser at E3G, a Brussels think tank, said including nuclear and natural gas in the taxonomy amounted to “calling something that isn’t green, green.”

She said a number of other countries are likely to be influenced by the European Union’s final ruling, and warned that it could create “a race to the bottom.”

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