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News 07 March 2023

Top story of the week France push on nuclear energy results in cooperation agreement between 11 Member States

On 28 February, in an informal Council of Energy Ministers held in Stockholm, Sweden, 11 EU Member States, including France, the Netherlands and Poland, agreed to strengthen European cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, particularly when it comes to supply chain cooperation, joint training programmes, and industrial projects. The main goal of the strategy is to support new projects in the field and foster the creation of innovative technologies. 

The meeting and discussion were initiated by France, the EU country which has been more eagerly pushing the nuclear energy policy area at the EU level in this particular direction. The French Energy Transition Minister, Agnès-Pannier Runacher, stated that the main goal of this agreement is to “structure cooperation on the whole nuclear value chain” and to “provide Europe with all the tools to reach carbon neutrality by 2050”. Additionally, the French minister also asked industrial groups about the feasibility of building more than 14 reactors by 2050, not long after the country presented an atomic energy plan of €50 billion in 2021 that will aim to renew some of France’s ageing nuclear reactors from 2035. 

The announcement follows weeks of contentious discussions with a French and German spat at its core, in which there is a difference of opinion regarding the role of nuclear energy in the EU’s clean energy transition. In that debate, the German government, which is led by a coalition that includes the anti-nuclear Green party, is clearly on the side that argues that identifying nuclear energy or nuclear-based hydrogen as renewable energy means reducing the level of ambition of the uptake of renewable energy. The negotiations have been heavily focused on the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) which sets the overarching European targets for the share of renewable energy in the Union’s energy and electricity system, a vital component in the clean energy transition and the Green Deal strategy. Though the two countries seemed to have an agreement on nuclear energy as a low-carbon energy source some weeks ago, and on a hydrogen pipeline that would link the Iberian Peninsula to Central Europe via France, the sides have since then not been able to find a middle ground on this issue. The discrepancy is now delaying the EU legislation process, thus the French move to bolster cooperation in this field. 

The aforementioned agreement will aim to promote research and innovation, as well as foster industrial cooperation through “common industrial projects”. The meeting included the participation of Kadri Simson, the EU’s Energy Commissioner, who invited the participating countries to also diversify away from Russian nuclear fuels and to actively participate in partnerships on small modular reactors (SMRs). The group of countries also highlighted the need to “work on a regulatory or legal framework for nuclear” in a way that “obviously does not oppose renewable energies”, as stated by Pannier-Runacher.