In the ongoing discussion about the taxonomy, the European Union has decided to label nuclear power and gas as sustainable. Although the aim was for the taxonomy to be rooted in science, the current outcome is entirely politically driven: France wants nuclear energy to be included in the taxonomy and Eastern Europe wants this for natural gas. Together with a number of other financial institutions, Triodos Bank has expressed its opposition to this development, partly because it goes against the principle of ‘do no significant harm’.
A taxonomy in which nuclear energy is labelled as sustainable, may encourage the construction of new nuclear power stations, or cause existing power stations to be kept in operation for longer. The Netherlands is a case in point: its new government has plans for (commissioning) the construction of two new nuclear power stations. It believes that these are necessary to be able to reach the climate goals. An often-cited advantage of nuclear power is security of supply. Apart from other big drawbacks, including the very long time that it takes to develop a new nuclear power station, the radioactive waste for which there is still no sustainable solution and the very high costs, ironically it is in fact that security of supply that is a big drawback and presents a potential problem.
You cannot just shut down a nuclear power station on days when wind, sun and other sustainable sources produce enough power. This would, moreover, be a very expensive option. According to a study that was commissioned by the grid operators and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, nuclear power does have a similar price ticket as solar and wind power, but only on the condition that the power that is produced by the nuclear power station has preferential access to the grid.
And that is the crux of the matter. The Netherlands is so close to reaching the limits of its power grid, that even now sustainable power can often not be fed into the grid and new connections for solar panels and other sustainable power sources are therefore refused. Clearly, if the Netherlands were to have two new nuclear power stations, this problem would only become bigger. The country would be shooting itself in the foot because this could prevent new capital expenditure on solar or wind power projects.
The high costs of developing new nuclear power stations make (co-)funding by governments essential. Governments would do better to use their money to fund urgently needed upgrading of the energy infrastructure - including energy storage. In all European countries power grids are in urgent need of expansion and reinforcement to be able to cope with the expected increase in supply and demand. Europe’s position would be even stronger if cross-border linking of power grids were improved. Co-operation between European power grids is in fact a particularly important requisite for making the energy transition succeed. With the right capital expenditure, we can ensure that all locally generated sustainable power can be distributed via the grid - now and in the future. Everyone will benefit from that expenditure, especially given our spiralling electricity bills.
Also read Rosl's article on the EU taxonomy.