Ten European countries, including France, have issued a statement demanding that nuclear power be added to the European Commission’s list of climate-friendly energy sources – before the end of the year.
The signatories, most of whom are Eastern European states, say nuclear energy "protects European consumers from price volatility" amid rising gas expenses.
They also say development of the nuclear industry "makes a decisive contribution to the independence” of Europe’s energy and electricity production sources, and could generate “a million highly qualified jobs”.
Signed by French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Industry Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the opinion piece, was on Sunday published in several European newspapers, including French right-wing daily Le Figaro.
It comes as the European Commission prepares to update its list of sustainable energy sources – a classification system known as taxonomy. Inclusion on the list opens up a sector to green finance, giving it a competitive advantage.
It steers private capital out of polluting economic activities and into those that can help play a role in fighting climate change.
Ally or enemy?
The inclusion of nuclear is a divisive subject in Europe. Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and a barrage of NGOs are staunchly opposed, while France, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia and Finland are fervently in favour.
Under the taxonomy framework, first published in April, nuclear energy has been given the “does not harm” label, which means it is not yet eligible for investments with lower tax rates.
Providing about 10 percent of the world's electricity, nuclear power emits less carbon than fossil fuels, and even solar power. Its only direct emission is water vapour from a plant’s cooling system.
However nuclear power also produces radioactive waste of varying degrees of danger, and with varying degrees of life expectancy. Many countries manage this by burying the waste deep underground.
The waste, along with catastrophic accidents, have given nuclear power a poor reputation.
However nuclear remains the largest source of power in France, generating more than 70 percent of the country's electricity needs.
For France, Sunday’s joint statement offers an opportunity to throw the spotlight on nuclear power two days before President Emmanuel Macron unveils his "France 2030" investment plan.
The nuclear industry is expected to figure prominently in the strategy, which is expected to cost tens of billions of euros.
Back in March, Macron himself co-signed a letter with Eastern European leaders urging the European Commission to include nuclear energy in its green taxonomy.
The tool, which will be updated over time, covers the economic activities of about 40 percent of listed companies that are domiciled in the EU, in sectors that account for 80 percent of emissions.
It is part of the EU's wider efforts to become the world's first carbon neutral continent by 2050. To achieve this, the bloc has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 55 percent this decade.