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Spain rejects EU’s ‘green’ label for nuclear and natural gas energy

The Spanish government has rejected the European Commission’s plans to include nuclear energy and natural gas in the EU’s classification table of green energies, arguing that it "makes no sense" and that it "sends the wrong message".  

nuclear plant spain
There are currently active five nuclear plants in Spain, and three more in the process of closing. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP

The heads of Spain’s Ministry for Ecological Transition, its Labour Ministry and the Consumer Affairs Department have all voiced their opposition the EC’s plans of classifying nuclear and natural gas energy production as “green”. 

“Regardless of whether investments may continue to be made in nuclear energy or natural gas, we consider that they are not green or sustainable energies,” stressed Spain’s Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera on Sunday.

According to her ministry, Spain is a “firm defender” of green taxonomy as a common framework across the bloc that can be used by investors to achieve the decarbonisation of the economy and help reach climate neutrality by 2050.

The European Commission describes its proposed “EU taxonomy” as a common classification system for sustainable economic activities, as part of its European Green Deal. 

READ MORE: EU moves to label nuclear and gas energy as ‘green’

“Adding nuclear and natural gas to the European green taxonomy would be a step backwards,” Ribera concluded.

“It makes no sense and sends the wrong messages for the energy transition of the whole of the EU.” 

Spain’s Ministry of Ecological Transition considers that the EU taxonomy system must be “credible, useful and based on scientific evidence”, and that for an economic activity to be green it must make a “substantial contribution to the main environmental goals of the EU, such as mitigating climate change”.

“Methane emissions from natural gas generation and the issue of nuclear energy waste call into question the inclusion of both activities within the EU’s green taxonomy,” the ministry added. 

“It’s the wrong message for financial markets and doesn’t provide the necessary clarity to focus capital flows towards a decarbonised, resilient and sustainable economy as envisaged in the European Green Deal”.

The European Commission quietly distributed the text to Member States late on Friday, in the final hours of 2021, after the proposal was twice delayed over the course of 2021.

Gas and nuclear energy would be labelled as green based on the argument that they’re “transitional” power generation activities, not fully sustainable but with emissions below average.

Germany, which has just closed down three of its last six nuclear plants, also opposed the EC’s proposal regarding nuclear energy, although it is in favour of some natural gas energy projects being classified as “green”.

Neighbouring Austria has taken it one step further and reiterated it will sue the European Commission over its plans to label nuclear energy as “green”. 

In Spain, there are currently five nuclear plants (seven reactors) in operation: Almaraz I and Almaraz II in the province of Cáceres, Ascó I and Ascó II in Tarragona, Cofrentes in Valencia, Trillo in Guadalajara and Vandellós in Tarragona. Three others have been shut down and are being dismantled.

There is also a nuclear fuel factory in Salamanca province and a small radioactive waste storage centre in El Cabril in Córdoba province. 

France has the highest number of nuclear plants of all EU nations with 56, and Macron’s government has announced plans to build more. 

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WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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