The European taxonomy currently under development is a tool that will enable activities to be classified according to their sustainability, with the aim of helping to channel financial flows to further the ecological transition. While nuclear energy was excluded from preliminary drafts, it may end up being included as a result of intense lobbying. However, this energy source contradicts several of the sustainability objectives of the taxonomy.
An activity is considered sustainable in the taxonomy if it contributes significantly to one of six environmental objectives, without significantly harming any of the others. These six objectives are: climate change mitigation; adaptation; protection of water and marine resources; transition to a circular economy; pollution prevention and control; and protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.
Under this definition, nuclear power cannot be considered a sustainable activity.
- Indeed, there is no sustainable solution for nuclear waste. We do not know how to recycle it, while the storage of waste that may be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years poses many problems. The conversion of installations – power plants in particular – is also not being handled adequately.
- Nuclear power functions thanks to a fuel, uranium, whose extraction and exploitation generates high pollution. Its use requires enormous quantities of water for its cooling system, which casts doubt on its relevance in a warming world.
- The objectives of pollution control, circular economy or biodiversity protection are therefore not met.
Moreover, even if nuclear is indeed a low-carbon energy – despite not being totally decarbonized – recent studies, including one across 123 countries over 24 years and published in Nature, show that energy systems that rely heavily on nuclear energy tend to slow down or block the deployment of renewable energies and do not cause a significant lowering of carbon emissions while those based largely on renewables do.
The first experts who worked on the European taxonomy did not express an opinion on nuclear power, because they could not ensure the sustainability of its waste management. They therefore logically removed it from the classification, thus following the precautionary principle.
Intense lobbying has since been undertaken to reintegrate nuclear power into sustainable activities. The European Commission has requested a specific report on this issue, which will be submitted for the opinion of two working groups. We are far from reaching the end of the process.
In any case, contrary to what many claim, the taxonomy is only a tool for transparency, a sort of catalog that will enable financial actors to justify their investments in the ecological transition on an objective basis. It will not in itself prevent the financing of nuclear power, which largely relies on public funding. This decision will remain in the hands of states. France will be able to decide to continue – or to stop – the financing of nuclear power, with or without the taxonomy.