Even before the start of the meeting of the Ministers of the Twenty-Seven in Brussels, French Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher brought together representatives of twelve other Member States with the aim of defending nuclear power and boosting industrial cooperation in the sector.
Inaugurated at the end of February in Stockholm, this "civil nuclear alliance" brought together ten countries on Tuesday (France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia), to which are added Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands as "observers".
"The participants (...) have fully recognized that nuclear", a carbon-free energy source, "is a strategic technology for achieving climate neutrality", according to a joint statement.
"The challenge is not to oppose nuclear power to renewables" but "to consider all the levers that can reduce our emissions," explained Ms. Pannier-Runacher. "As a decarbonisation solution (...) And to have a competitive electricity that supports our industrial fabric, nuclear power has an important role to play."
Meanwhile, Austrian Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler gathered on Tuesday morning with her counterparts from ten states (Belgium, Estonia, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Luxembourg, Latvia) to discuss the "deployment of renewables". The majority of these countries dispute that the civil atom can be treated in the same way as "green" technologies.
The France calls for adopting "technological neutrality" leaving states free to choose the means to achieve climate goals. "This is extremely important to help us exploit all options in our decarbonisation efforts," Czech Minister Jozef Sikela said on Tuesday.
The plan unveiled in mid-March by the European Commission to boost green industries has alarmed Paris, because it mentions nuclear without granting it the regulatory and financial benefits granted to renewables.
On Tuesday evening, ministers adopted their position on legislation to facilitate the adaptation of gas networks to the rise of hydrogen and biomethane, with a view to starting negotiations with MEPs to finalise this text.
The objective is to support the abandonment of natural gas in favor of low-carbon alternatives. "We need to create the right market conditions," said Swedish Minister Ebba Busch, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.
However, no compromise was yet in sight on the ambitious renewable energy law, which negotiators from the Council (member states) and the European Parliament are supposed to finalise on Wednesday.
This text provides for "renewable" hydrogen objectives to be achieved in transport and industry: the France and its allies are demanding equal treatment between renewable hydrogen and "low-carbon" hydrogen produced with electricity of nuclear origin.
"We must be very careful not to create a competitiveness gap between Europe and the United States" whose green subsidies plan (IRA) "deals with renewables and nuclear at the same level," said Pannier-Runacher.
A red line for at least seven countries (Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain), which had demanded mid-March "not to encourage" the production of hydrogen from nuclear, believing that this risked "slowing down investment in new renewable capacity".
"Renewable means renewable," Gewessler tweeted Tuesday after the meeting she was organizing. "Nuclear power is not green, sorry!" exclaimed his Spanish counterpart Teresa Ribera.
"It takes between 12 and 18 years to build a new nuclear power plant (...) These colossal sums must be invested now in solar and wind power so that we have a chance in the climate fight," added Luxembourger Claude Turmes.
"Two minorities block each other" on this text, comments a diplomat. The ambassadors of the Twenty-Seven will try on Wednesday morning to agree on a possible solution before the resumption of talks between the Council and Parliament.
"It's a difficult balance ... but if we do not respect the fact that different Member States choose different energy mixes, we will most likely prolong our dependence on fossil sources," Busch said.
© 2023 AFP