1. What exactly does the proposal entail?
The European Commission (Ursula von der Leyen and her team) presented a plan on New Year’s Eve in which it indicates how natural gas and nuclear energy can play a role in greening Europe. The idea is that modern gas-fired power stations emit much less greenhouse gases than the coal-fired power stations still in abundance. And nuclear power stations hardly emit any greenhouse gases.
Therefore, if it is up to the Commission, they should be able to be regarded as green at least until 2030 (for gas) and 2045 (for nuclear power plants). In this way, Europe can reduce CO2 emissions and still be sure that there is enough capacity for electricity production. Something that does not seem to be possible so quickly with really green sources such as sun and wind.
By labeling gas and nuclear energy as green, it becomes easier for investors (such as investment and pension funds) to invest in these types of projects.
2. Does this mean that we will mainly build gas and nuclear power plants?
“It will become easier,” energy expert Jilles van den Beukel of the Hague Center for Strategic Studies (HCSS) told RTLZ. “But the conditions for more gas-fired power stations in particular are strict. They must be greener than the power plant they replace. They must also be able to absorb the CO2 emissions (which is then stored, ed.) or the power station may only be used as a backup. up.”
The latter is when, for example, the solar and wind power stations produce too little because of bad weather.
Brussels also sets requirements for nuclear power stations. Only the latest technologies should be used and there should be a plan for what to do with the nuclear waste.
3. But nuclear waste is still a big problem, isn’t it?
According to Van den Beukel, Finland and France, the largest users of nuclear energy in Europe, have final solutions for this. “The Finns put it in granite, the French in hardened clay.”
In the case of Finland, that means a hundreds of meters deep cave of billions of years old granite where the waste will be stored forever from 2023. In the Netherlands, the waste from the Borssele nuclear power plant is temporarily stored near the power plant, in a special complex. There is not yet a permanent solution here.
4. What is the attitude of the Member States to this plan?
Until this morning it seemed that this would cause a serious fight in Europe. France, Finland and a number of Eastern European countries are in favour. The French in particular hope to capitalize on their lead in knowledge of nuclear energy, for example in the Netherlands. After all, the coalition agreement of Rutte IV contains the plan to build two modern nuclear power plants.
Germany, which decided to say goodbye to nuclear energy after the disaster in Japan’s Fukushima in 2011, initially seemed strongly against it. But the new coalition does not immediately want to quarrel in Europe and, according to Reuters, seems to agree.
The three coalition parties (Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals) do not want nuclear power plants in Germany itself (the last nuclear power plant will be closed this year), but they do see a major role for gas as a bridge to completely green forms of energy.
Germany has also always been in favor of a recently completed additional gas pipeline that runs from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany and is intended to supply large parts of Europe with gas.
5. And environmental organizations? Do they see it as a solution?
Environmental movements are not at all pleased with the Commission’s plans. Greenpeace calls the European Commission’s plan a ‘safeguard for greenwashing’.
“Natural gas is already the main source of greenhouse gas emissions from energy generation in Europe. Encouraging investment in natural gas by giving it a green label will only increase the devastating climate impact,” the environmental organization said in a statement.
In a letter to the Dutch government at the end of last year, environmental organizations called on the Dutch cabinet not to support the plans. “We call on you to [..] ensure that natural gas is not labeled as sustainable.”
Large pension funds in the Netherlands are also not keen. The Pension Federation even calls it ‘stretching’ green standards. The largest pension fund in the Netherlands, ABP, decided in October to get out of fossil energy altogether. However, the fund still invests in nuclear energy.