EU’s Simson calls for ‘shifting gears’ in nuclear energy investments –


EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson called for a “shift in investment gear” in nuclear power to extend the lifespan of existing plants and maintain current production levels until 2050 EURACTIV France reports.

“The terms of the conversation around nuclear energy in Europe are changing,” said the commissioner, who spoke on Tuesday, November 30 at the opening ceremony of the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris.

This is due first of all to the climate emergency, which requires low-carbon baseload electricity to supplement variable renewables, and technological developments such as small modular reactors, she explained.

But “the third area where developments call for a shift is investment,” she added.

“Today, the average age of the EU’s nuclear fleet is over 30 years. And according to our analysis, without immediate investments, around 90% of existing reactors would be shut down when they are needed most: in 2030, ”she warned.

“Extending their lifespan safely requires between 45 and 50 billion euros,” said Simson. “And to keep roughly the same nuclear production capacity as today, more than ten Member States are planning around € 400 billion in investments for new capacity installed by 2050,” she said. added.

This is why “the cost of finance will play a key role in making nuclear power generation possible and competitive,” Simson continued, referring to the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

Debate rages in Brussels over whether to classify nuclear energy as a ‘sustainable’ or ‘transitional’ activity under the EU’s green finance taxonomy, with opponents highlighting security risks and problems associated with the safe disposal of radioactive waste.

But supporters of atomic energy were supported by a report from the Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) in July, which concluded that nuclear energy was safe and therefore eligible for a green label under the EU taxonomy.

After an EU summit in October, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive would soon table proposals on gas and nuclear as part of the bloc’s green finance settlement .

And judging by Simson’s speech, things may soon get better for nuclear power in Europe.

The Commission’s taxonomy proposal “will be ready in the coming weeks”, she said. “And this will clarify whether nuclear power generation, waste disposal or fuel supply can be classified as sustainable activities for investors.”

A windfall effect

Such a distinction, separating three types of nuclear-related activities, could prove useful in encouraging investors to embark on new projects.

Foratom, the trade association for the nuclear energy industry in Europe, saw this as a positive sign.

“You have to be careful about becoming too dependent on variable renewables, due to their dependence on weather conditions,” said Jessica Johnson, communications director at Foratom, the European nuclear energy association. “This is why an ever-growing number of citizens and Member States recognize that it is essential to support the EU’s reliable and low-carbon energy sources – mainly nuclear -“, he said. she told EURACTIV in comments sent by email.

In his speech, Simson made similar remarks, highlighting the “challenges” of “shifting towards an increasing share of intermittent power generation” from wind and solar.

“There is a growing sense of realism about the need to supplement renewables with basic electricity generation. This is leading to a renewed interest in nuclear energy as part of the new energy future, ”said Simson.

“The point is that nuclear power is the most prevalent low-carbon source today, providing the base load necessary for the stability of the power grid. And also one that helps reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, contributing to energy stability and security, ”she added.

Given the incentive investments, the EU’s taxonomy proposal should be ready around December 15, according to EURACTIV.

The future of nuclear power uncertain in France after 2035

During her visit, the European Commissioner also met Jean-Bernard Levy, CEO of the French electricity giant EDF, to discuss the role of nuclear energy in the European energy system.

Other international organizations are starting to speak more favorably about nuclear power. On the day of Simson’s speech (November 30), the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a report on France’s energy policy, which warned against declining nuclear power in France.

The energy-climate law provides for the closure of 14 nuclear reactors to reduce the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix to 50% by 2035.

The IEA report recommended that the French government “review the conditions of the legislative obligation to limit the contribution of nuclear power to 50% of electricity production until 2035, with regard to the climate emergency objectives, climate neutrality, affordability and deployment of renewable energy. “

The IEA is also due to publish a report in May 2022 on the role of nuclear energy in achieving the goal of net zero emissions.

“If the deployment of renewable energies and the associated flexibility needs do not accelerate quickly enough by focusing on execution and implementation, the objective of closing 14 nuclear reactors could be difficult to achieve while preserving margins. capacity ”, according to the IEA document, which also calls for“ a timely decision on the role of nuclear power beyond 2035 ”.

“By investing much more in energy efficiency, renewable energies and nuclear energy, France can accelerate its progress towards its main energy and climate objectives”, commented the executive director of the IEA, Fatih Birol.

Following the submission of the IEA report, the French Minister for the Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili declared that the document “confirms the orientations adopted by France”, namely “the reinforcement of energy efficiency, the development of energies. renewables and the maintenance of a nuclear power base “.

“Energy security will be of fundamental importance during France’s transition to clean energies,” Pompili also underlined.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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