It's Official. Nuclear Power Is 'Appropriate and Safe'

The EU is reviewing a new and overwhelmingly positive report on nuclear power.
Brad Bergan
A view of the sky from inside a nuclear cooling tower.Jakob Madsen / Unsplash

Experts in the European Union have completed a draft declaring nuclear power a green investment, fully meeting the standards as a sustainable energy source, according to a recently shared report.

However, since this report is a draft undergoing consideration of the European Commission, the designation of nuclear power as "sustainable" may be contingent upon other, similar debates about natural gas.

Further EU scrutiny to decide whether nuclear power is green

This comes a part of the European Commission's sustainable finance taxonomy — which decides which economic activities are sustainable investments in the E.U., or not — based on rigid environmental criteria. Last year, expert advisors in Brussels were split over the question of assigning a green label to nuclear power. Contrary to misconceptions, nuclear power produces very low levels of planet-warming CO2 emissions.

However, the E.U. Commission needed to flesh out the environmental impact of radioactive waste disposal, before coming to a decision, asking the Joint Research Centre (JRC) — the scientific-focused arm — to provide a report on the issue. And a draft of the JRC report, initially leaked to Reuters argued nuclear should receive a green label.

"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," read the report. Nuclear waste can be stored in deep geologic formations in ways that are "appropriate and safe," continued the report, citing cases like France and Finland, where such sites are already in advanced development stages.

However, further scrutiny from two expert committees will continue for roughly three months before the E.U. Commission arrives at an ultimate decision on nuclear power.

'Sustainable fuel' debate could slow nuclear power's green labeling

In general, E.U. countries are ambivalent on nuclear power. Hungary, France, and five other countries in March pushed for the Commission to lend support to nuclear policies — including the taxonomy. But other European states, like Austria and various environmental groups, think it's a bad idea, emphasizing the H in hazardous waste, along with delays and burgeoning costs of recent nuclear power projects.

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"The nuclear industry is desperate for funds as nuclear power is too expensive and new projects are evaporating," said the Greenpeace E.U. Policy Advisor Silvia Pastorelli, according to a report from Reuters. More precisely, E.U. countries are split on how the taxonomy should consider natural gas investments.

This split came after a plan to exclude gas saw a backlash from pro-gas states — causing the Commission to draft plans to keep some gas labeled sustainable. In case you missed it, some carbon-producing gas is still labeled as a sustainable energy source in Europe. This exacerbated the discord between countries who support fuel as an alternative to coal, and those who say even newer gas plants risk continuing to emit intolerable amounts of carbon emissions for decades — deflating commitment to climate goals.

Despite numerous advances in nuclear power — like the mini-nuclear reactors, research into thorium, and more — there's a tendency for some involved in climate policy-making and -activism to conflate the dangers of nuclear weapons with those of nuclear power. But this is not so. They are not the same, and the E.U. Commission is tremendously close to agreeing.

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