As the race to renewable energy gathers steam, so is nuclear power also gaining momentum as European lawmakers bowed to pressure from France to allow nuclear power to be used for ammonia and hydrogen production in order to pass new legally binding targets to expand renewable energy development in the European Union.
France’s own hefty nuclear power sector – which generates over 60% of the country’s electricity – is clearly a key beneficiary of the allowances made by lawmakers as part of the deal which aggressively lifts EU renewable energy usage targets.
But all of Europe’s nuclear power producers may get a lift from the new deal, which allows for certain non-emitting nuclear facilities to bypass rules relating to hydrogen production.
Thanks to the deal, France’s nuclear plants can produce and market hydrogen that may be used by industry as a replacement for fossil fuels, and contribute to the region’s goals of sharply reducing fossil fuel use while boosting supplies of clean fuels.
Opponents to the deal with France wanted to restrict green hydrogen production to facilities fed by new renewable energy capacity, but were outnumbered by those in favour of the compromise which ensures that all of Europe’s main economies continue to push towards shared emissions reduction goals.
With certain nuclear plants now considered eligible to produce the hydrogen and ammonia that are expected to be used as power sources and industrial inputs over the coming years, nuclear plants outside of France will likely take an interest in joining efforts to scale up clean hydrogen output.
In addition, the EU’s apparent acceptance that nuclear power is a key source of low-carbon energy will likely further shore up support for nuclear power.
The Sector Loses Share To Renewables And Natural Gas
The sector has lost share to renewables and natural gas across Europe in recent decades, but has seen a resurgence in public and industry backing over the past year or so as Europe’s power costs surged in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Beyond France, several European countries rely on nuclear power to generate a substantial share of electricity, including Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium and Bulgaria.
Non-nuclear nations are also exploring the feasibility of developing nuclear capacity, including Italy which this year passed a parliamentary motion to encourage the government to consider adding nuclear to the country’s energy generation mix.
Even in Germany, which shut its last remaining nuclear reactors in early 2023, members of the coalition government recently called for the dismantling of plants to stop, in case they are needed in future energy crises.
The nuclear sector still has plenty of opponents, who point to decades-long construction times and multi-billion-dollar price tags as key reasons why cheaper and quicker-to-build renewable sources may be a better fit for Europe’s energy needs.
But with existing plants that already generate non-emitting power now primed to also tap potentially lucrative growth markets in hydrogen and ammonia, nuclear power supporters may soon crowd out the opponents and boost the sector’s recognition as a key and clean part of Europe’s energy mix.