Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Nuclear Lobby Thwarts EU’s Anti-Greenwashing Efforts


The European Union’s (EU) taxonomy regulation was hailed as the most important environmental legislation in Europe, aimed at directing investment towards climate-friendly goals. However, the European Commission’s decision to include nuclear power and gas as “environmentally sustainable economic activities” has been challenged by Austria, NGOs, and a member of the European Parliament. The Climate Complementary Delegated Act, a non-legislative supplement to the regulation, was adopted on March 9, 2022, and came into effect on January 1 this year. The complainants argue that the “sustainable” label given to nuclear energy and natural gas breaches the EU’s climate commitments, violates EU environmental law, and is incompatible with the “do no significant harm” criteria of the taxonomy regulation itself. The EC refused to revoke the act, leading the complainants to launch a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice.

The nuclear lobby has been accused of undermining the legislation. The EU’s Green Deal, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, recognized that investment had to be channeled to environmentally sustainable enterprises. The EU taxonomy regulation was supposed to be a list of scientifically-based technical criteria to set apart economic activities that are genuinely sustainable from those that are harming the environment. Nuclear energy and natural gas initially failed to meet the taxonomy criteria, but a lobbying blitz was launched to reverse this decision. A report by Reclaim Finance revealed a lobbying campaign worth millions of euros was initiated to amend the regulation in favor of the natural gas and nuclear industries. Lobbyists met frequently with EU representatives during critical phases of the deliberations over the taxonomy. Russia was an extremely active “stakeholder” during the entire legislative process.

The seven EU countries that sought to put pressure on the European Commission to change the regulation’s provisions were Poland, France, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Their joint letter argued for the inclusion of nuclear power in the regulation. A team of fact-checkers from four EU countries determined that 20 statements in the letter were false or misleading. Among them were assertions that nuclear power is “environmentally friendly”, “essential to the transition towards clean energy sources”, a “promising source of hydrogen”, and “affordable”.

Nuclear energy is not green because its “upstream” activities that are necessary for operation, such as mining uranium, as well as transporting fuel, building and then decommissioning a power plant, and managing the radioactive waste that is a by-product of the process – are all linked to CO₂ emissions. Thus, the carbon footprint of nuclear energy generation is considerable and considerably higher than that of renewables. Nuclear technology also needs significant amounts of cooling water and creates waste that is so toxic to the environment that no permanent storage solution has been developed for 70-odd years. It also represents a risk of seriously and permanently harming large swaths of territories in the case of an accident.

The profusion of nuclear delusions is meant in part to mask the industry’s own failures but also the military interests of nuclear governments by pushing unsupported theories to legitimize public funding. It is meant to confuse, demoralize and disable any organized effort to change things. The media has played a part in this by reporting on lobbying efforts without checking the veracity of their claims.

In its current form, this delegated act is likely to derail key 2030 and 2050 climate goals and damage the Green Deal by influencing negatively green taxonomies being developed around the world. It will encourage greenwashing practices, redirect capital flows towards polluting sectors, and upset progress made on implementing the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

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