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2021 will be a year of big challenges for the nuclear sector

Jan 12, 2021

Yves Desbazeille, FORATOM Director General

Yves DesbazeilleFirst of all, I would like to wish you all the best for the upcoming year. I hope this year turns out to be a great one for you and your families. I also hope that 2021 will be a much better year than the previous one, which – needless to say – was a very difficult and tumultuous year for everyone.

Of course, it was also an extraordinary year for the whole European nuclear sector. What is important to highlight is the fact that amid the outbreak of COVID-19, workers in the European nuclear industry have been doing their utmost to keep Europe’s lights on by providing people and industry with a stable and secure supply of low-carbon electricity where and when it is needed. The overall operation of all nuclear reactors continues, and as a result electricy supplies have not been negatively affected. The European nuclear fleet is currently responsible for generating almost 1/3 of electricity in the European Union – among others thanks to nuclear energy’s capacity factor which is the highest of all available energy sources (85-90%). This result has been achieved thanks to the effort of the entire nuclear workforce which is committed to continuing its work and providing electricity despite all the difficulties, for which we are grateful.

2020 was also a year of significant nuclear-related legislative developments at EU level. The most important one is the Sustainable Finance Initiative which will shape the future of the European energy sector for the years to come. The European Commission, based on the outcome of the work currently carried out by the EC’s Joint Research Center, plans to decide on whether or not nuclear qualify as a sector eligible for sustainable finance. However, the work will not be completed before mid-2021, and the Commission has made it clear that nuclear will not be included in its delegated acts (DAs) relating to climate mitigation and adaptation. As FORATOM, we remain convinced that a robust, scientific assessment of nuclear will lead to the inclusion of the EU’s largest source of low-carbon electricity under the Initiative.

On the bright side, last year we saw positive signs in many EU Member States (MS) regarding nuclear energy. This applies to both countries which already have nuclear power plants, as well as those that haven’t used this source of energy so far. Based on the MS’s National Energy and Climate Plans that were submitted to the European Commission, we note that 16 EU Member States have included nuclear energy in their future energy plans (new build, LTO, maintaining current capacity or nuclear research and innovation). What is also very encouraging is that the public is becoming more and more pro-nuclear in many European countries given the current climate emergency.

That being said, looking forward to the year ahead, I can definitely say that it will be another challenging one for us. Hopefully, the COVID crisis will gradually subside, but nevertheless there will be many other important topics on which we will have to focus in the upcoming 12 months. Definitely, the most important issue on the agenda will be ensuring that nuclear energy maintains its well-deserved role in all important EU legislative acts such as the European Green Deal or the Sustainable Finance Initiative.

On the Sustainable Finance Initiative, our main goal will be to ensure that the Taxonomy does not exclude nuclear energy. On the European Green Deal, continuing to monitor closely the developments of the EU’s climate ambitions (climate law & 2030 climate targets) will be essential, particularly in terms of clean, affordable and secure energy (hydrogen and ESI strategies as well as NECPs) and in relation to the Industrial and Circular Economy strategies.

We will also continue to work on other topics which have been kick-started in 2020 such as the issue of optimizing the European nuclear supply chain, work on advanced nuclear reactors – including SMRs – ensuring that there is no generation gap in nuclear staff and further work on the medical applications of nuclear.

In order to achieve these goals, one of our main priorities in 2021 will be reinforcing the role of FORATOM as a key player at EU level as well further cooperation with international players (for example a Memorandum of Understanding has just been signed with the CNA).

Also, we have to make sure that the work is carried out not only by FORATOM, but simultaneously by all our members from the European Union and beyond. That’s why a deeper cooperation with our member companies is much needed. We can see that in order to be efficient at EU level, certain resources have to be devoted to this goal – including financial involvement.

I truly believe that 2021 can be the dawn of nuclear energy’s renaissance. Many independent international organisations confirmed without a doubt that nuclear energy has to play an important part in the decarbonisation process. It doesn’t mean that the pathway ahead of us in 2021 will be easy. There are many challenges to overcome, but I believe that by working together we will be able to ensure that 2021 will be the year in which we can strengthen the position of nuclear energy in Europe’s energy mix and beyond.

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