Monday, May 27, 2024

EU agrees compromise on nuclear energy amid French pressure

The EU has reached a compromise on new targets for renewable energy after agreeing to make an exception for nuclear power in certain sectors amid pressure from France.

Negotiators from member states and the European parliament agreed to increase the overall binding target of renewable energy consumed in the EU to 42.5 per cent by 2030, up from 32 per cent, according to a statement. They also set an “indicative” target of reaching 45 per cent by the end of the decade.

France had pushed for nuclear energy to be included in countries’ efforts to reach those targets. But at the end of a long night of negotiations, the countries agreed on a more limited concession counting nuclear power towards the target for industry.

Nuclear-sceptic countries including Germany and Austria had argued against the inclusion of atomic power, saying that such a move would undermine efforts to expand solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy.

The agreement now includes counting “low-carbon” hydrogen generated with electricity from atomic power plants as part of separate targets for renewable hydrogen used by industry, which can be reduced by one-fifth under certain conditions.

The states would, however, still have to reach the overall renewables goal of 42.5 per cent, regardless of the discount in the industry sector.

French energy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said the agreement was an “important advance” in terms of giving nuclear power some recognition when devising goals to reduce emissions — a battle France has led for months, across a series of EU texts on energy goals, with mixed success.

“This is about recognising that the development of renewable energy in Europe is aimed at eliminating fossil fuels and should not lead to the replacement of nuclear reactors,” she told reporters.

She added that the French efforts were aimed at giving a “voice in Europe to all the member states who consider that nuclear power will help us leave fossil fuels behind”.

The new goals still mean France will have to play catch-up on rolling out renewable energy production. In 2020 it was the only country to fall short of its EU-set target, which in France’s case was for 23 per cent of renewable energy consumption to come from renewable sources. It came in at 19.1 per cent.

France has long been Europe’s nuclear power champion, deriving at least two-thirds of its electricity from atomic plants last year even as a record number of outages at reactors caused output to drop. It is planning for at least six new reactors, which it aims to build by 2035, and has led a push for nuclear, a low carbon form of energy, to be recognised more widely in decarbonisation goals.

The new law also accelerates permitting procedures for wind farms, solar panels and other renewable energy projects. They would be considered in the “overriding public interest”, meaning they could be exempt from certain nature protection laws.

“It will mean a massive boost for renewable energies in Europe,” said Markus Pieper, who led the negotiations for the European parliament on the directive.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the deal “will help us progress towards climate neutrality, strengthen our energy security and boost our competitiveness — all at once”.

The deal still needs to be formally endorsed by parliament and EU governments. While this is usually a formal process, Germany’s recent reopening of a deal regarding rules for car emissions has caused concern that countries unhappy with the outcome of this agreement could make a similar move.