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Taxonomy: A much awaited end of year gift?

Dec 15, 2021

Jessica Johnson, Communications & EU Stakeholders Director, FORATOM

As we come to the end of 2021, we continue to wait for news as to if, how and when the European Commission will add nuclear to the Sustainable Finance taxonomy.  It has certainly been a whirlwind of a year, but even now we are still not certain what the fate of nuclear will finally be.

As many of you know, the first half of 2021 was dedicated to a scientific assessment of nuclear against the criteria established by the taxonomy regulation.  March 2021 saw the publication of an extensive assessment by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre.  Its conclusions were clear: nuclear does not cause more harm than any other power producing technology currently deemed to be taxonomy compliant.  This work was then assessed by:

  • The Article 31 Group of the Euratom Treaty
  • The Scientific Committee on Health Environment and Emerging Risks

In general, these two groups agreed with the conclusions of the JRC and whilst the SCHEER did raise some points relating primarily to mining and water impacts, these are of relevance to all technologies in the power sector. 

There was some doubt as to whether the Commission would include nuclear under a so-called ‘Complementary Delegated Act’ (CDA) as it had originally promised in its Communication of 21 April 2021.  Indeed, over the summer we became concerned when we heard mention of the possibility that they may subject nuclear to a separate legislative proposal instead (even if this would contravene the principle of technology neutrality as enshrined in the taxonomy regulation). But with the onset of the current energy crisis, and more and more Member States showing an openness to nuclear, it seems the Commission will now stick to its word and issue a CDA.

The questions which are now on everybody’s lips are

  • When will this CDA be published?
  • What will it look like?
  • Will a public consultation be held?

Regarding the first question, it seems increasingly likely that the CDA will be out on 22 December 2021 (although 15 December is also a possibility as they could publish it together with the gas package). Regarding the third point, whilst other Delegated Acts generally undergo a one month public consultation, there have been rumours that the Commission is planning to skip this part. 

Then we come to the most important question: what will the technical screening criteria (TSC) for nuclear look like?  In the JRC’s assessment they included a series of illustrative TSCs – will the Commission use these as a basis? Will nuclear be treated only as a transitional technology? Is it planning to introduce more stringent criteria relating to, for example, waste management and safety? Could it decide to only support the long-term operation of existing reactors, or only new build projects? Which reactor technologies will be deemed as eligible? 

At the time of writing, we have no idea what this CDA will look like. So we can only continue to keep our ears to the ground in the hope that a draft will be leaked in the coming days. But in the meantime we continue to hold our breaths and hope that our end of year gift will be – at the very least – a balanced one. 

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