Arriving Thursday, January 20 in Amiens for a meeting of European ministers of the environment, the German representative did not use periphrases to say all the bad things he thinks of nuclear energy. “It’s not green energy, nor sustainable. The question of waste management is not resolved: it is not economical either”, insisted the Secretary of State for the Climate, Stefan Tidow. Berlin is therefore fiercely opposed to the inclusion of nuclear energy in the classification of green investments – the taxonomy – presented at the end of December by the European Commission. The 27 member states of the EU have until January 21 to demand changes, before the publication of the final text.
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Total nuclear phase-out
This opposition is logical for a country which, in December 2022, will close its last three power plants still in service. Across the Rhine, the exit from nuclear power was recorded in 2011, after the Fukushima accident in Japan. For the social democrats, ecologists and liberals who make up the new government, this technology is too “risky”, “too expensive” and so “neither green nor sustainable”.
Even if Austria, Portugal, Luxembourg and Denmark share this point of view, Germany knows that it is isolated within the European Union. A symbol if ever there was one, it is geographically wedged between France and Poland, both of which rely on nuclear power to reduce their CO2 emissions. “The federal government does not have the power to counter the Commission”, observes the Minister of the Environment Steffi Lemke, who calls the latter “to backtrack” of herself. However, Berlin should not follow the example of Austria, which wants to file a complaint against this taxonomy.
The bet on renewables
The reason for this restraint can be explained in one word: gas. Germany has indeed obtained that it too be classified as a transitional green energy by the Commission. In its coalition agreement, the new German government presents gas as a “essential transition energy source” which will allow the country to ensure a stable supply of electricity in the years to come.
The challenge that the Federal Republic has set itself is indeed immense. She wants to achieve carbon neutrality by phasing out nuclear power this year, and coal, ” the best “, by 2030, while focusing on renewable energies. If all goes well, in 2030, 80% of its electricity will come from clean energies. The remaining 20% will be provided by modern gas-fired power stations which, by 2045, will have to run on hydrogen.
For players in the sector, these German announcements are a godsend. The “Avenir Gaz” association, which brings together around a hundred companies, estimates that the investments needed to achieve the government’s objectives are 30 billion euros. And if she applauds the inclusion of gas in the European Commission’s list of green investments, she sees with a critical eye the list of criteria associated by Brussels for the construction of any new power station. Among them, the obligation to use from 2026 “at least 30% renewable or low-carbon gas”. A share that will rise to 50% in 2030. “The taxonomy proposal provides very strict and complicated criteria. This will make it more difficult to quickly obtain funds to finance the additional capacities needed”, regrets Gundolf Schweppe, vice-chairman of the board of directors of Avenir Gaz. According to him, private investors could lose interest in this energy and invest their money in nuclear power, for which the list of criteria is shorter. A shame for Germany.
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Unsurprisingly, these European haggling raise the hair of environmentalists, who recall that gas remains polluting even if it emits less CO2 than coal. Members of the government, the Greens swallow their first snake and see part of their base rebel. Two hundred and twenty thousand people have signed a petition demanding the removal of nuclear and gas from the European taxonomy.