Europe is struggling with how to meet carbon reduction goals while keeping the lights on. To get the new year off on the right foot, the European Union is considering a draft proposal that would designate nuclear and unnatural gas generating facilities as green investments that will help countries lower their carbon emissions, according to the New York Times.
A statement by the European Union last week said, “The Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future.” A draft legal document circulating in Brussels terms gas and nuclear as “transitional” green energy sources that can be used to provide a bridge to clean energy technologies like wind and solar.
Is that a problem? Oh, you betcha, bubbie. Defining gas and nuclear as green energy source will unlock billions in public and private investment dollars. A trained economist will tell you that if you spend a dollar to buy a cupcake, that means you can’t spend the same dollar to buy a donut. So the billions of dollars that go to build new nuclear and gas generating plants represent money that will not be available to build wind and solar farms.
Then add this into the equation. New nuclear and thermal generating plants have a design life of 50 years or more. By the time these new facilities are paid off, the oceans will have long since closed over Manhattan, London, and hundreds of other world cities located in coastal areas.
And it gets worse. The “green energy source” label means all these investments can legally be included in the holdings of so-called ESG funds, allowing Wall Street profiteers to market them to unsophisticated investors as helping to ward off the scourge of climate change. It’s a lie, of course, but the world of commerce has never been shy about lying when it was good for the bottom line.
Bas Eickhout, a Green lawmaker from the Netherlands, tells the New York Times that classifying natural gas as a green investment would mean “the entire climate leadership of the European Union is down the drain. It would also send the wrong signal to the world. If Europe starts calling an investment in gas green, then what exactly is the reason for the African Union not to go fully into gas as well?” He says the debate over nuclear and gas has become “a proxy fight” among national leaders for the future of energy in the Europe.
“By and large, nuclear was not considered to be ESG-friendly,” says Marisa Drew, the head of sustainable investing at Credit Suisse. But EU approval would open up “a potentially big wave of investment dollars. Trillions of ESG money could find its way in this direction.” The European Commission Advisory Platform on Sustainable Finance concluded earlier this year that nuclear power plants posed risks of “significant harm” to the environment because of the radioactive waste they generate and concerns over the safety of storing it, she said.
Tsvetelina Kuzmanova, an expert on sustainable finance and a policy adviser at Brussels think-tank E3G says the proposal is “calling something that isn’t green, green” and warns that a number of countries are likely to be influenced by the European Union’s final ruling, creating “a race to the bottom.”
Nuclear Will Play A Fundamental Role
This week, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said nuclear power will play a “fundamental role” in meeting Europe’s energy needs, according to a report by DW. “Existing nuclear plants alone will need €50 billion of investment from now until 2030. And new generation ones will need 500 billion ($586 billion)!” he said in an interview with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche. “This effort represents around €20 billion a year.”
France is a strong supporter of nuclear energy. Germany and Austria are not. Nuclear advocates tell people not to worry about those scary nuclear wastes because new nuclear facilities would be required to use up-to-date technology and operate under strict waste disposal plans. [Perhaps it could all be encased in concrete and dumped in the ocean! Out of sight, out of mind.]
A number of companies like Westinghouse and Rolls Royce are working on a new generation of modular small scale nuclear reactors that can be put together in factories and assembled onsite at a fraction of the cost of the monstrously large nuclear power plants that were in favor before Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima took some of the bloom off the nuclear power rose.
The companies envision those compact “nukes” to be potential power source for factories, desalination facilities or even cryptocurrency miners. If that happens, Marisa Drew says, “We’re not going to get that genie back in the box.” And that’s the problem.
Instead of building bridges to the future, why not build the future? We humans are the beneficiaries of nuclear power already. We have a giant fusion reactor in the sky known as the Sun that will provide us — all of us — with free, non-polluting energy for at least the next billion years or so. All we have to do is build solar and wind farms to harvest all that energy and use if for the betterment of humanity.
Natural gas is not natural. It is a climate killer. Yes, it burns cleaner than coal, but that’s like saying Saddam Hussein was better than Attila The Hun. Getting it out of the ground and transporting it to where it is needed creates enormous amounts of methane emissions, and when it is burned, it still gives off clouds of carbon dioxide just like every other fossil fuel. The argument is that nuclear and gas are what eastern European countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria that still are heavily dependent on coal to generate their electricity really need to transition to a somewhat cleaner future, and that’s sort of a good thing, so let’s do it.
But what is preventing those countries from taking the €500 billion Thierry Breton is talking about and putting it to work to build new economies based on clean, zero emissions energy — energy that has no waste disposal problems associated with it? Europe can only spend all that money once. When it’s gone, it will be left with some very expensive stranded assets. And while the money will help some nations move beyond coal, why not move on to renewables and be done with it?
Could it be because all that lovely money distorts the political process and allows self-interest to preempt the best interests of society? Nah, no self-respecting corporation would throw humanity under the bus for the sake of a few euros, would it? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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