The European Commission has filed proposals to label some natural gas and nuclear energy as green in the European taxonomy list on December 31st, 2021. The European Union taxonomy involves blocks of classification systems that aim to guide investments in the energy sector and is used to give investors appropriate definitions of which economic activities are considered environmentally sustainable. This proposal aims to help guide investors to channel money into projects in harmony to ultimately decarbonize the E.U.’s economy by 2050.
After considering the current progress in science and technology and the transitional challenges each member state in the E.U. is facing, the European Commission has stated that “there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future.” Another notable point made in the proposal, obtained by Politico, involves the Union’s perspective on the vital roles natural gas and nuclear energy will play in decarbonizing the economy. The proposal claims that “it is necessary to recognise that the fossil gas and nuclear energy sectors can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Union’s economy.”
The responses to the European Commission’s proposal have been controversial. Countries such as France and Poland, which already rely heavily on nuclear power, fully support the decision to label nuclear and natural gas as green energy, while other countries in the European Union, such as Germany, Spain, and Austria, strongly object to this proposal. One reason countries such as Germany disagree with the proposal is that they do not currently rely on nuclear energy in their economy. Germany shut down its sixth nuclear power plant recently.
Many European countries today still rely on coal as their main energy source, and one must question whether nuclear power and natural gas are safe and greener alternatives. Natural gas emits less carbon dioxide when burnt than coal, however, it also emits methane when extracted, which contributes extensively to the greenhouse effect. Nuclear energy, since it is a low-carbon resource, remains a potential solution to emit fewer greenhouse gases to prevent the risk associated with global warming while also meeting the demands for high energy use. Nuclear energy does provide a clean and efficient source of energy.
However one must take into account the possibilities of nuclear accidents and the challenges of dealing with radioactive waste disposal. The nuclear accident that occurred in Fukushima in 2011 serves as a cautionary example of the damage nuclear plants may cause due to unforeseen natural disasters. The tsunami and earthquake were the causes of the shutdown of Fukushima’s nuclear plant’s external power source, thereby leading to an overheating of fuel, which in turn caused severe nuclear explosions. Radiation was released as a result, which contaminated residential areas. Half a million people were forced to evacuate.
Critics of this proposal cite that nuclear and natural gas energy is not sustainable and labelling both energy sources as green will only undermine the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Natural gas and nuclear energy producers will be able to attract more investors and thus incentivize corporations and investors to allocate more money to nuclear-related projects. However, the issue is that nuclear power remains unsustainable until there is a viable way to effectively deal with large amounts of hazardous radioactive waste produced.
The Chernobyl accident and the Three Mile Island case prove to be compelling reasons to abandon the development of nuclear energy altogether due to the many potentially great consequences caused by nuclear energy. Furthermore, since the source of nuclear energy is not renewable, uranium may cease to exist in the future.
One solution I would propose is for the European Commission to find more ways to invest in projects related to truly renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, rather than encouraging more nuclear and natural gas projects. Both solar and wind power pose a minimal impact on the environment and are entirely independent of fossil fuels. Additional renewable energy projects such as thermal and wind power will reduce the level of greenhouse emissions and will be a good starting point in achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
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