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Irish MEPs split on potential EU classification of nuclear energy as green

A full vote on the proposed changes is set to take place in Strasbourg next month.

A nuclear power plant with cooling towers in Germany
A nuclear power plant with cooling towers in Germany
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THERE ARE DISAGREEMENTS between Government party MEPs on whether or not the EU should classify nuclear energy as green, as the European Parliament prepares to vote on the issue next month.

The debate is being held after the European Commission sought changes to regulations to classify both nuclear power and gas as green energy until at least 2030.

These regulations, known as ‘taxonomy’, are a set of multiple standards to help grow sustainable investment.

The idea behind taxonomy is to encourage the financial sector to prioritise investing in eco-friendly and green initiatives.

While MEPs within the European Parliament’s environment and economy committee voted down the proposals to add gas and nuclear power last week, a full vote is set to take place in Strasbourg in July.

This has lead to significant debate between MEPs within the European Parliament, with some criticising the move by the Commission to add natural gas and nuclear power to the deal..

The debate has also split Government MEPs, with some in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backing the change to taxonomy rules while the Green Party remain opposed to the Commission’s position.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels earlier this week, Grace O’Sullivan, a Green Party MEP for the Ireland South constituency, said that changing the regulations would “muddy the waters” for sustainable investment.

“Where gas and nuclear are being labelled in the regulation as green and it, clearly for us, is absolutely muddying the waters,” said O’Sullivan.

“The fact now that the European Commission is going out and looking for ways to have some kind of an interim energy supply is understandable, but at the same time, we have to be very careful that we don’t compound the problem, that the investments are going into long-term, sustainable, renewable mechanisms and that we’re not sinking investments further into fossil fuels or into nuclear, which to our mind is fraught with problems.”

Fianna Fáil MEP for Ireland South, Billy Kelleher, however, said that the it was “delusional” to think it would be possible for Europe to reach net zero by 2050 without using nuclear power.

“The reality is 25% of all electricity generated in Europe comes from nuclear power. Half of all carbon-free electricity is generated by nuclear power,” Kelleher said, speaking to reporters in Brussels.

“So the idea that we can get to carbon neutral by 2050 without having nuclear power is just completely delusional to be quite truthful.”

He added that Ireland would be buying nuclear generated electricity from France within a number of years, once the Celtic Interconnector is built between Ireland and France.

“I actually think that this debate is going to be really intense over the next number of years on nuclear, not necessarily as much on gas, but certainly on nuclear.

“I think that some green, environmental people will start looking at nuclear as an option to get the carbon neutrality by 2050, otherwise it would be very difficult to get there.”

Kelleher however, agreed that the gas issue was more complex and that he believes it should only be a “transitional fuel”.

Weaponised power plants

O’Sullivan particularly criticised the proposed addition of nuclear energy, citing the war in Ukraine and how nuclear power plants could be used as weapons.

“Now look at Chernobyl, as this war continues, is almost like a weapon being used against Ukrainians, against any country around it,” O’Sullivan said.

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On the first day of the war in Ukraine, Russian forces captured Chernobyl after battling with Ukrainian troops.

Just days later, on 4 March, Russian troops captured the largest nuclear power plant in Europe in Zaporizhzhia, with a fire being caused in the battle.

While the fire was extinguished and there was no radiation leak, there was concerns in the immediate aftermath for a repeat of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Kelleher said that current nuclear debates are based on the “prism of the 1960s and 1970s” and that there is now a different context.

“Very often the nuclear power debate is based on and looked at through the prism of the 1960s and 1970s in a completely different context, you know, nuclear war and all that.

“The technology has advanced significantly and a lot of countries are actively pursuing nuclear electricity generation.”

However, Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts, who spoke with Irish journalists in Brussels, said that the real issue with nuclear energy is disposing the waste generated by power plants.

Currently, Finland is building a massive underground nuclear waste storage facility under the city of Eurajoki, where spent uranium fuel rods will be stored for the next 100,000 years.

Lamberts said that it was “hubris” to assume humans could solve the issue of nuclear waste storage, and that proponents of nuclear power could not know what the world would be like within the next 100,000 years.

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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