EU Taxonomy can move forward with nuclear, JRC finds

29 March 2021

The nuclear industry has today called on the European Commission to expedite the inclusion of nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy on Sustainable Finance, following a comprehensive assessment that nuclear energy does no more harm to human health or the environment than any other power-producing technology considered to be sustainable.

The assessment was conducted by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), whose mission is to support EU policies with independent evidence throughout the whole policy cycle.

The JRC conducted a review to assess nuclear energy generation under the 'do no significant harm' (DNSH) criteria, considering the effects of the whole nuclear energy lifecycle in terms of existing and potential environmental impacts across all objectives, with emphasis on the management of the generated nuclear and radioactive waste. The JRC report - Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‘do no significant harm’ criteria of Regulation (EU) 2020/852 (‘Taxonomy Regulation’) - presents the result of that review.

"The analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the Taxonomy as activities supporting climate change mitigation," the JRC says in the report.

"The comparison of impacts of various electricity generation technologies (e.g. oil, gas, renewables and nuclear energy) on human health and the environment, based on recent Life Cycle Analyses, shows that the impacts of nuclear energy are mostly comparable with hydropower and the renewables, with regard to non-radiological effects," it adds.

The report, which is marked 'sensitive', was leaked to the Press last week, but it isn't clear whether this is the final version of it.

In response to the JRC's assessment of nuclear, Foratom, the European nuclear trade organisation, said that the European Commission should move ahead with the inclusion of nuclear under the Sustainable Finance Taxonomy and the Ecolabel for Retail Financial Products.

Foratom noted that nuclear has so far been "neither included nor excluded" from the Taxonomy owing to the fact the former Technical Expert Group (TEG) had recommended that nuclear be assessed by experts with an in-depth knowledge of the nuclear lifecycle. One of the important issues identified by the TEG is that of radioactive waste disposal, and the fact that there was currently no long-term solution in operation. The JRC has responded to the TEG’s concerns by highlighting that "there is broad scientific and technical consensus that disposal of high-level, long-lived radioactive waste in deep geologic formations is, at the state of today’s knowledge, considered as an appropriate and safe means of isolating it from the biosphere for very long time scales", Foratom said.

Yves Desbazeille, director general of the Brussels-based organisation, said: "We now have the assessment which we have been waiting for, and so the time has come for nuclear to be added to the Taxonomy and the Ecolabel. At the same time, as an industry we will also pay serious attention to the recommendations which are put forward by the JRC to make sure that all technically feasible measures are implemented to render the European nuclear sector as sustainable as possible."

Foratom said the European Commission "needs to provide clarity on how and when it will include nuclear under the Taxonomy in the coming days". It also calls for the draft Ecolabel for Retail Financial Products to be reviewed in order to rectify the exclusion of nuclear before it is submitted to the European Council and Parliament.

Nuclear energy is the largest (26.7% in 2019) single source of low-carbon energy in the EU, ahead of hydro (12.3%), wind (13.3%), solar (4.4%) and other (0.5%).

This fact was highlighted last week by seven leaders of EU Member States, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who wrote to the European Commission on the role of nuclear power in EU climate and energy policy.

In their letter they said the development of the nuclear sector in the EU is contested by a number of Member States "despite its indispensable contribution to fighting climate change" and "guarantees the continued renewable deployment to much higher penetration levels". Nuclear power is also "a very promising source of low-carbon hydrogen at an affordable price" and "generates a considerable number of stable, quality jobs, which will be important in the post-COVID recession", they wrote.

Addressing the next steps that need to be taken, Sama Bilbao y LeĆ³n, director general of World Nuclear Association, said: "The JRC report should be reviewed with due urgency by the two remaining expert groups. In the meanwhile, we call on the Commission to not delay in setting out the process and the timeline for the inclusion of nuclear energy within the Taxonomy, to safeguard the transparency of the process."

She added: "We are facing the dual challenge of economic recovery following the pandemic, and climate change. Enough time has been spent procrastinating. Nuclear energy has already played a major role in the EU and beyond in terms providing reliable, cost-effective, 24/7 sustainable electricity for the last 40+ years, and it will be crucial in building a sustainable tomorrow."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News