EU: nuclear power, bone of contention for energy ministers

Reform of the electricity market, adaptation of gas networks, law on renewables

EU: nuclear power, bone of contention for energy ministers

Reform of the electricity market, adaptation of gas networks, law on renewables... European energy ministers are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday against a backdrop of sharp differences over the role of nuclear power, with Paris beefing up its offensive in favor of the civilian atom.

After having haunted the EU summit last week, the opposition between member states supporters or detractors of nuclear power complicates this week the negotiations on several key texts for the climate.

The ministers must therefore adopt their position on legislation intended to adapt the gas networks to the development of hydrogen and biomethane, via an incentive regulatory framework for investors, producers and consumers.

"There is strong support for practically all the measures", but a possible reference to "low-carbon" hydrogen, i.e. produced with electricity from nuclear power, was the subject of lively discussions upstream, according to a European diplomat.

The atom is also at the heart of final talks between negotiators from the Council (the Member States) and the European Parliament to finalize on Wednesday a vast law on renewable energies, with "renewable" hydrogen objectives to be achieved in transport and the industry.

In this text, France calls for equal treatment between renewable and low-carbon hydrogen, which was fiercely rejected in mid-March in a joint letter by seven anti-nuclear countries (Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain).

From diplomatic sources, the ministers could discuss it "in an informal way" to outline compromises.

“A minority of States demands that nuclear energy be taken into account, another is categorically against: these two minorities mutually block each other”, the diplomat is alarmed.

"This double blockage will have to be resolved (...) France will move forward with its partners" in order to obtain "recognition of the role of low-carbon in the transition", it is underlined in Paris.

On the sidelines of a meeting of energy ministers in Stockholm, France brought together ten other EU countries at the end of February (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) ready to defend the atom and strengthen their cooperation in the sector.

To weigh in the debates, the French Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher brings together again Tuesday morning the counterparts of this "alliance", with a number of States "perhaps higher than the last time", indicates her cabinet.

Another subject of alarm for Paris: the Commission unveiled a plan in mid-March to boost green industries, which mentions nuclear power but without granting it the advantages intended for renewables (acceleration of authorization procedures, financing facilities, etc.). ).

"Only the zero-emission technologies that we deem strategic for the future will have full access to the benefits," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted on Thursday on the sidelines of the summit.

"The expression is unfortunate (...) clearly not consistent with the climate issue", annoys the cabinet of Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

"In all the texts, we call for the recognition of technological neutrality", leaving the States free to choose the means of decarbonizing, he argues.

Thus, "we do not see why a technology would be favored" when hydrogen is produced without emitting CO2, develops the ministry.

- "Shy proposal" -

Finally, the nuclear issue should color Tuesday the very first debate of ministers on the reform of the electricity market proposed in mid-March by the Commission.

It does not intend to touch the wholesale market where daily prices are suspended from gas prices - but wants to develop long-term contracts, applicable to renewables and nuclear, to smooth consumer bills, offer predictable income to producers and encourage investment.

Brussels wants to impose the use of contracts at a price guaranteed by the State (CFD) in the event of public aid for any new investment in these "carbon-free energies", including for example in existing nuclear power plants.

"This is the main point of difficulty", observes a diplomat.

Paris, very satisfied, sees it as a way of contributing to the financing of the French nuclear fleet, while Berlin (supporter of a minimum reform) and its six allies asked in February for optional CFDs strictly reserved for new renewable infrastructures. .

28/03/2023 07:37:51 - Bruxelles (AFP) - © 2023 AFP