Two EU reports on nuclear sustainability not entirely on same page

July 7, 2021, 1:00PMNuclear News
The headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

Two reports submitted last week to the European Commission to help it decide whether to include nuclear energy in the “EU taxonomy”—a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities for the European Union—could end up prolonging the decision-making process, as the reports are not in full agreement on the matter.

Both reports, dated July 2, are reviews of Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the “do no significant harm” criteria of regulation (EU) 2020/852 (“Taxonomy Regulation”), a “science for policy” report requested by the EC in 2020 and delivered in March of this year by the Joint Research Centre, the commission’s science and knowledge service. The JRC’s comprehensive, 387-page document endorsed adding nuclear to the taxonomy, concluding, “The analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the taxonomy as activities supporting climate change mitigation.”

Difference of opinion: The EC requested reviews of the JRC report from the “Group of Experts” referred to in Article 31 of the Euratom Treaty and from the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER).

The report from the Article 31 group is largely in agreement with the conclusions of the JRC, finding, for instance, that “the European legal framework [under the Euratom Treaty] provides an adequate system of protection of workers, members of the public, and of the environment, as well as for the management of any risks in a manner that the residual risk remains acceptable.”

The Article 31 group also says that the JRC report “demonstrates that the fatality rate caused by severe accidents is for nuclear energy comparable to, and for the Gen III NPPs lower than, that of any other electricity production technologies, and that the maximum consequences of a single event are rather high but still comparable with some other electricity production technologies.”

The SCHEER report, on the other hand, says, “There are several findings where the [JRC] report is incomplete and requires to be enhanced with further evidence.” For example, while in general agreement with the JRC that nuclear power plant operation activities “do not represent unavertable harm to human health or to the environment, provided that the associated industrial activities meet appropriate technical criteria,” the SCHEER report claims that “dependence on an operational regulatory framework is not in itself sufficient to mitigate these impacts, e.g., in mining and milling, where the burden of the impacts are felt outside Europe.”

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