Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.
Despite what it looks like on The Simpsons, nuclear energy does not glow green. But the European Union may soon call it green anyway.
Leaked documents from Brussels over the weekend revealed the European Commissionis planning to reclassify nuclear power and some forms of natural gas — two controversial forms of energy production — as “green,” opening the door to billions of dollars flowing to the new category of sustainable investment. “Excellent,” said Mr. Burns.
Billion Dollar Label
The EU’s big environmental policy goal is to reach net carbon zero by 2050, a lofty goal which will require cutting pollution in just about every way imaginable. In 2020 the economic union created the “EU taxonomy,” a classification system that spells out which investments it considers environmentally sustainable and [eligible for preferential tax treatment].
The system was designed to help drive capital into emissions-free categories like solar and wind power, and provide clarity to asset managers and hedge funds eager to slap the coveted “ESG” tag on their portfolios.
Nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gasses, but it’s not currently on the taxonomy list. Natural gas, which produces far less pollution than traditional fossil fuels, isn’t either. But, over the weekend, copies of a draft plan from the EU leaked with both forms of energy now on the list. It’s a huge deal in international energy markets for a few reasons:
- There’s tons of money to be made: European Central Bank estimates that just 1.3% of EU bond and equity markets, or about €290 billion, are currently financing sustainable activities, but that could grow to 10% under the taxonomy.
- Only nuclear plants that use the most up-to-date standards for waste disposal will get the green label, a huge boost for the $20 billion nuclear waste management market.
What Changed? Basically, France beat Germany. The French — who get over 70% of their power from nuclear plants — organized a coalition of nuclear and natural gas friendly countries to overpower a coalition led by Germany, which shut down its last nuclear power plants on New Year’s Day. Talk about bad timing.