January 19, 2022
The European Commission suggested to label nuclear energy and natural gas as sources of green energy. To stay on track with Glasgow’s COP 26 goals and achieve decarbonization by 2050, some new sources of energy to replace coal are needed. According to the recommendations of the Commission proposal, nuclear and natural gas can be classified as “green” when subject to rigid quality standards. If this is confirmed, they will become the pillars of the new Green Deal and the ecological transition of the European Union (“EU”) .
Nuclear fission is indeed a low-carbon process, but it does not qualify as a renewable energy source under current regulations . Given the lack of a valid alternative to produce low-carbon fuel, the proposal drafted by the European Commission would add nuclear energy to the green energy basket. Nonetheless, nuclear energy companies and administrative bodies would have to guarantee that technological upgrades are made regularly and all the necessary measures to protect the environment and safeguard human activities are undertaken. In particular, strict criteria for the management of radioactive material must be set and followed throughout its whole lifecycle, with special care for its storage and disposal .
Slightly differently, natural gas would be classified as a “transitional” source of energy according to the proposal draft. It would acquire the “sustainable” label only if it replaced high-pollutant sources (predominantly coal) where renewables are not yet available .
Including nuclear power as a sustainable investment within the EU Taxonomy for the Green Deal has literally “split in two” the member states . The pro-nuclear front led by France aims to label atom-derived power as “sustainable” energy, while the opposite front, led by Germany, is against it. Despite some second thoughts, the latter front declared that nuclear power is risky and would prefer not to rely on it. Many countries have not taken sides even after the draft review deadline set on January 12 .
The “green” labelling of fossil fuels was also controversial. “It would send the wrong signal to the world” noted the Dutch representative B. Eickhout. “If Europe starts calling “green” an investment in gas, what will prevent the African Union from devoting itself fully to it?” .
Meanwhile, several environmental organizations (e.g., Greenpeace, WWF) accused the EU of hypocrisy and greenwashing. “The Commission’s Taxonomy is a license for greenwashing. Polluting companies will be happy to have the EU’s seal of approval to attract money and continue devastating the planet by burning natural gas and producing radioactive waste” said M. Stoczkiewicz, director of Greenpeace’s EU program .
Is it really necessary to label these two sources of energy as sustainable? Reading the news with a critical eye, isn’t this a mere business strategy to promote investments in these two key sectors? In fact, one may be puzzled to read that the EU’s strategy to fully rely on clean energy is to use natural gas and nuclear power to transit from fossil fuels to renewables. How long will that transition be? Rather than green, that remains absolutely obscure.
 BBC News. (2022, January 2). EU plans to label gas and nuclear energy “green” prompt row. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59850093
 EU Commission. (2021). EU taxonomy for sustainable activities. European Commission – European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/sustainable-finance/eu-taxonomy-sustainable-activities_en
 European Commission. (2021). COMMISSION DELEGATED REGULATION (EU) amending Delegated Regulation (EU) 2021/2139 as regards economic activities in certain energy sectors and Delegated Regulation (EU 2021/2178 as regards specific public disclosures for those economic activities Text with EEA relevance). https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/european-commission-draft-proposal/9865f31c3619fee9/full.pdf
 Alderman, L., & Pronczuk, M. (2022, January 2). Europe Plans to Say Nuclear Power and Natural Gas Are Green Investments. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/02/business/europe-green-investments-nuclear-natural-gas.html
 Greenpeace European Unit. (2022, January 1). EU Commission’s taxonomy plan is “licence to greenwash.” Greenpeace. https://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/issues/climate-energy/45988/nuclear-gas-eu-taxonomy-licence-to-greenwash