EU's open secret on nuclear subsidies

22 July 2013

A leaked draft of a European Union (EU) working paper suggesting that member countries may be allowed to directly subsidise nuclear power has prompted widespread consternation.

The paper has been drafted by the European Commission's Competition directorate as part of an ongoing review of guidelines on environmental and energy aid. In it, proposals are set out that could see EU member states allowed to offer limited state aid to support the development of nuclear energy in cases where a specific problem is preventing the ability of the market to deliver the necessary investment by itself. The document then sets out various criteria that would have to be met by any such aid program.

Nuclear presents an option for low-carbon generation which is of interest to many European countries as they strive to meet EU decarbonisation targets. At present, EU members are not permitted to subsidise nuclear power projects through state aid, although existing guidelines set out rules allowing aid for specific renewable energy technologies.

A consultation paper published by the Competition directorate in March acknowledged that some member states wish to widen such support to other low-carbon energy sources including nuclear. The same month saw the governments of 12 EU member states issue a forthright communique calling for 'neutrality of technology', placing nuclear on a level playing field with renewables and carbon capture technologies in the drive for decarbonisation.

The leaked document has been widely cited by international news media, with Greenpeace posting copies of five pages pertaining to state subsidies for nuclear energy projects on its web site.

European Commission spokesperson for competition Antoine Colombani was quick to point out via Twitter that the paper does not constitute a proposal and is merely an internal working document forming part of the preparations for a public consultation on new guidelines for state aid, which is to be launched in the autumn. "The [European] Commission does not wish in any way to encourage subsidies to nuclear power. It is for Member States to define their own energy mix," he tweeted.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News