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Commission text is ambiguous on nuclear, but Paris wants to change that.
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PARIS — France isn’t giving up in its fight to make “all” nuclear energy production a concrete part of new EU legislation meant to bolster green industries.
After the European Commission debuted its long-awaited Net-Zero Industry Act proposal on Thursday with ambiguous provisions for nuclear power, the French government said it will push to modify the new industrial policy plan to make sure that any form of such technology is covered.
“We are asking Brussels to include nuclear power, covering all technologies. Joint efforts with like-minded member states are therefore underway to expand the list of technologies covered by the Net-Zero Industry Act beyond emerging technologies,” a spokesperson for France’s energy ministry told POLITICO.
The proposal, which aims to ensure that at least 40 percent of the bloc’s demand for clean tech is made domestically by 2030, does not include nuclear energy in a list of “strategic net-zero technologies” that can benefit from faster permitting and easier access to funding detailed in an annex of the text. However, elsewhere in the text, the formal definition of net-zero technologies includes “advanced technologies to produce energy from nuclear processes with minimal waste from the fuel cycle” and “small modular reactors,” which are still emerging technologies.
More than half of France’s energy needs are powered by nuclear and Paris has been at the forefront of EU countries defending the industry.
Nuclear technologies were mentioned in an earlier draft version of the proposal’s list of strategic technologies, but were then scrapped during internal negotiations between Commission services, as first reported by POLITICO. France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire last week said he would “fight” to include nuclear in the text.
The EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, from France, was quick to insist on Thursday that some nuclear technologies are covered by the text. But Green Deal Commissioner Frans Timmermans sounded more cautious. The text “broadly covers the nuclear sector, but of course, if you talk about future investment and clean tech, you focus on those new technologies that look very promising,” Timmermans said.
Christophe Grudler, a French MEP from President Emmanuel Macron’s Renew Europe group, who chairs a group of pro-nuclear lawmakers, welcomed the fact that some nuclear technologies are mentioned in the text while noting that “nuclear should be treated like other [technologies].”
Nuclear lobbies also criticized the Commission’s compromise. Yves Desbazeille, director general of Nucleareurope, said in a statement that the text was “not enough,” and stressed that green industry subsidies under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act support “the entire nuclear sector” and not only new technologies.
Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, an energy expert and director at the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) in Paris, argued the battle to include nuclear in this text is mostly “ideological.” The new text aims to cut red tape for the construction of new factories in clean-tech sectors, but there are few, if any, examples of new factories needed for producing nuclear components being stopped by excessive national bureaucracy, he said.
France’s push for nuclear sets the stage for a fierce fight as the proposal is negotiated by EU countries in the Council.
“Fundamentally … we consider the Commission has made a mistake,” said a diplomat from a pro-nuclear EU country, who accused the Commission of discriminating between different technologies. “We will rectify this at the Council,” they added.
A diplomat from a second EU country disagreed: “We will push for nuclear to not be included” in Council talks, they said.
Federica Di Sario contributed reporting from Brussels.
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