EU Scientists and Politicians Clash Over Gas and Nuclear as ‘Sustainable’ Investments

Yves here. This article, apparently reflecting the messaging of various interest groups, doesn’t appear to acknowledge the elephant in the room: why the big push to designate pretty obviously not green power sources, here gas and nuclear, as “sustainable”?

Readers can correct me, but it looks as if this is a huge effort of a lack of better solutions to the base load problem. Solar is fickle, particularly given Europe’s short and often overcast winter days. Hydropower, which is often tidal hydro, and wind aren’t fully reliable.1

And note that Europe still has a long way to go; the European Environment Agency reported that in 2020, 21.3% of energy came from renewable sources.

Again, no one in a position of authority or even with a good media megaphone seems willing to state the obvious: the first line of defense is radical energy conservation. But it needs to include above all the energy hogs, which are the top wealthy, and they seem even less interested than ordinary citizens.

By Stella Levantesi, an Italian climate journalist, photographer and author. Her book “I bugiardi del clima” (Climate Liars), published in Italy with Laterza, investigates climate change denial history and tactics. Her work has been published in The New Republic, Nature Italy, Wired Italy, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, Mint India, Internazionale, il manifesto, 7 Corriere della Sera, LifeGate and others. Originally published at DeSmogBlog

A nuclear plant outside of Paris, France. Credit: Gretchen Mahan (CC By 2.0)

The European Union’s scientific and political communities are locked in a battle over whether gas and nuclear can be considered green investments. The latest development in this years-long fight came on Monday, when the European Commission’s scientific expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance (PSF), pushed back against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, an official guide on sustainable investments. The expert group stated that it is “deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that may result.”

In December 2021, after months of lobbying, strong pushback from pro-gas and pro-nuclear supporters, and informal alliances between governments, the Commission asked the Platform on Sustainable Finance to provide feedback on a draft amendment that included gas and nuclear in the taxonomy, thereby recognizing them as sustainable.

In July 2020, the European Union established the EU Taxonomy Regulation, “a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.” It’s a “green investment guidebook,” said Henry Eviston, spokesperson on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. In other words, to call an investment “green,” it needs to be taxonomy compliant.

Economic activities comply with the taxonomy if they pass a number of technical screening criteria and meet at least one of six environmental objectives, without harming any of the others: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and sustainably using water and marine resources; transitioning to a circular economy; preventing and controlling pollution; and restoring and protecting biodiversity.

The taxonomy separates activities in three categories: “green” activities, which contribute to one of the environmental objectives “in and of themselves;” “transition” activities, which contribute to the energy transition and for which there are no low-carbon alternatives; and “enabling” activities, for instance, manufacturing a device or part that would help make other activities sustainable. The categories, however, seem to be a mere formality because, “once you’re in the taxonomy, you’re classified as sustainable regardless of what category you’re put into,” Eviston said.

The process of establishing the criteria was “relatively open, relatively transparent until mid 2020,” he explained. “After that, the taxonomy became a huge fight over not what was scientific but the future of certain sources of energy.”

The Push for Gas and Nuclear

Prior to the Platform on Sustainable Finance’s report, in July 2018, the European Commission established a Technical Expert Group (TEG) to develop the taxonomy’s screening criteria. In June 2019, the TEG defined a threshold of 100g CO2e/kWh below which energy-generation technologies can be deemed sustainable. This science-based threshold — considered necessary to achieve emissions targets by 2050 — excluded all fossil fuels from being in the taxonomy.

In January 2021, representatives from the clean energy sector sent a joint letter welcoming the criteria recommended by the TEG and stating that “the inclusion of power generation with a carbon intensity above this limit would not only deviate from science, but would also harm the EU’s decarbonisation trajectory and its 2050 net-zero objectives.”

But this didn’t suit everyone.

Initially, 10 member states, mostly in Eastern and Southern Europe, opposed the TEG’s criteria. On December 18, 2020, the day when the public consultation came to a close, “the gas bloc”  — Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia — submitted an unofficial document expressing their concerns to the European Commission. It emphasised the need to “recognize the transitional and enabling role of natural gas,” referring to two of the taxonomy’s three categories.

The taxonomy’s “enabling” and “transitional” categories have very specific requirements, which the Commission’s scientific expert group says gas does not satisfy.

But because of the gas bloc’s pushback, “the European commission went back to the drawing table to try to accommodate their demands,” Olivier Vardakoulias, finance and subsidies coordinator at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, explained. These demands “were essentially to adjust the technical screening criteria for gas investments to be included in the taxonomy.”

However, the taxonomy legally requires so-called technological neutrality, the equal treatment of every technology. “You cannot create weaker criteria for a certain technology simply because there’s a lobbying push behind it,” Eviston said. “And that is exactly what is happening for fossil gas.”

A similar pattern has played out with nuclear energy as well. Although it complies with the 100g CO2e/kWh emissions threshold screening criteria, it must also meet the “do no significant harm” principle, meaning that it substantially contributes to at least one of the six environmental objectives without harming any other objective. Many — including the Platform on Sustainable Finance — say that’s where it falls short.

In March 2020, an official document stated that the TEG has “not recommended the inclusion of nuclear energy in the Taxonomy at this stage” primarily because the waste created by nuclear energy does not comply with the “do no significant harm” principle.

Like with natural gas, pro-nuclear companies and lobbies started to pressure the Commission to change its stance. Between March and July 2020, nuclear lobbies met with EU representatives twice as often as they did in 2018, according to the non-governmental organization Reclaim Finance.

In response, the European Commission asked its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to assess the absence of significant environmental harm from nuclear power. In March 2021, the JRC issued a report of its findings, and stated that it didn’t find any evidence that nuclear energy “does more harm to human health or to the environment” than other energy technologies included in the taxonomy. The taxonomy’s website states that the report “aims to provide evidence-based scientific support to the European policymaking process.”

But opponents of nuclear energy questioned the independence of the report. “We’re very concerned because the JRC has very strong links with the nuclear industry. The Commission should have known better,” said Ariadna Rodrigo, a campaigner with Greenpeace European Unit.

According to a Greenpeace briefing, the JRC receives funding from the Research and Training Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), founded in 1958 to develop a European common market for atomic energy. Between 2021 and 2025, Euratom agreed to provide 532 million euros to the JRC. The briefing also states that the nuclear lobby Foratom is a JRC partner for “training and recruitment structures, technology platforms and joint events.”

Eviston agrees that the JRC’s report is problematic, not only because of the group’s links to the nuclear lobby but also because “there is no conclusive evidence today that there is a solution for the issue of highly radioactive waste, and this, in our view, violates the [taxonomy’s] requirement for conclusive, scientific evidence and the precautionary principle.”

Attempts to influence the taxonomy process have been widespread, according to research from several groups. Reclaim Finance investigated how gas and nuclear lobbies are trying to influence the taxonomy. The group foundthat at least 189 lobbyists devoted up to 87 million euros a year to lobbying EU institutions, and that EU officials held an average of 2.36 meetings per week with gas and nuclear players between January 2018 and July 7, 2020. The frequency of these meetings increased to 2.86 times a week between March and July 2020, after the TEG’s final report was published.

Major fossil fuel companies, including BP, Total and Equinor, also made a direct plea for “a more lenient approach to gas” in a November 2020 letter, according to a report from InfluenceMap. In a separate report, InfluenceMap found that only a small number of the 50 largest financial groups in Europe have “actively and transparently” supported the taxonomy.

‘An Unholy Alliance’

The taxonomy is under assault to include gas and nuclear not only from those industries and their respective lobbies but also from a newly formed unofficial alliance between EU member states. Governments, it turns out, are just as involved as nuclear and gas lobbies.

France — whose energy mix is largely based on nuclear — has been fighting “tooth and nail,” Vardakoulias said, for nuclear energy to be included in the taxonomy. And what has developed is a so-called “gas for nuclear swap” in which pro-nuclear governments and pro-gas governments are coming together to push their interests.

“What we’ve seen over the past months is that France drifted towards the pro-gas position, although France has absolutely no national stake in gas,” Vardakoulias said, “and an unholy alliance has formed. France, as a big member state, promised its support on gas to many European countries — who don’t necessarily have nuclear plans, by the way — in exchange for their support on nuclear.”

In a statement, Pierre Cannet, director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF France, called this an “attempt to greenwash fossil gas for so-called national interests” and “a triple betrayal” of science, the taxonomy’s goals, and increasing support from investors and financial institutions to exclude gas from the regulation.

The “gas for nuclear swap” isn’t only limited to France. “The Greek prime minister came out and said that we support nuclear in the taxonomy when Greece has never had any connection whatsoever to nuclear, but it does want gas,” Vardakoulias said. “I think that’s the typical example of that political exchange that went on.” Similar dynamics have played out in other EU countries, like Italy, where nuclear has long been excluded from the political debate after a clear-cut referendum in 2011 and only recently has started appearing in some politicians’ public declarations again. Like Greece, Italy has a huge stake in gas.

All this pressure from pro-gas and pro-nuclear companies, lobbies, and governments appears to have worked. On December 31, 2021 — “a time where nobody was watching,” the European Consumer Organisation stated — the commission published a draft of revisions to the taxonomy. It proposed technical screening criteria for economic activities in the energy sector, including gas and nuclear.

Foratom, “the voice of the European Nuclear Industry” and pro-nuclear factions allied with pro-gas countries, welcomed the decision to weaken criteria for nuclear to be included in the taxonomy, according to information obtained by Greenpeace EU Unit and shared with DeSmog. Austria, Spain, Denmark, and Luxembourg, whose governments have been vocal on multiple occasions against both gas and nuclear, unconditionally rejected including nuclear energy. Germany also strongly opposed nuclear, but has not resisted the inclusion of gas, which makes up part of the country’s energy mix.

It Pays to Be Green

The taxonomy does not regulate which investments are and aren’t allowed. It only indicates which investments are considered sustainable.

“When you go into a shop and you buy a fridge or a washing machine, you have a label that tells you about the performance. You can still buy a fridge that’s really bad, or really inefficient, that’s up to you. But at least you want that label to give you accurate information,” Eviston explained, “otherwise you’re making purchases – or investments, in the case of the taxonomy – on the basis of flawed information.”

So why are certain governments and lobbies pushing so hard to have gas and nuclear energy included in the taxonomy?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer often comes down to money: If you’re not green, investors aren’t interested.

An InfluenceMap report found that European companies that support regulating CO2 emissions do better in the stock market than companies that oppose these policies. This suggests that investors are increasingly backing companies with business strategies clearly aligned with the Paris Agreement and the EU’s net-zero climate ambitions. And some are even calling for it openly: In January, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, whose members represent 50 trillion euros in assets, sent an open letter to EU politicians, calling for gas to be excluded from the taxonomy.

The fossil fuel industry has invested a huge amount of time and energy into framing gas as transitional, so that “policymakers will accept the idea that gas is a stepping stone away from coal and towards renewables,” Eviston said. “In other words, the fossil fuel industry has positioned itself as part of the solution and not part of the problem.” Excluding gas from the taxonomy undermines that carefully cultivated image and has the potential to frighten off investors.

Nuclear’s motivation for being included in the taxonomy is different. On January 17, S&P Global issued a research update warning that the credit rating for Electricité de France (EDF), a French multinational utility company with 56 active nuclear reactors in France, might be lowered due to prolonged outages and demands on production from the government.

This problem isn’t isolated to EDF; the nuclear industry as a whole is “unable to prevent cost overrun, to prevent delays, and to address a number of questions, including social acceptability,” said Eviston. “This is an industry which is in grave trouble. It is clinging onto any lifeline it can get.” And including it in the taxonomy will attract more investment.

Vladis Dombrovskis, the European Commission vice-president in charge of the economy, said the taxonomy “sorts green from greenwash.” Except that it won’t if it lets in gas and nuclear.

“Because now it is being greenwashed, there is a very clear risk for the taxonomy to stop being any kind of international standard setter,” Vardakoulias said. “It’s not just that we allow [gas and nuclear] to happen, it’s that we want to baptize them as sustainable as well.”

The fight over nuclear and gas hasn’t yet reached its final round. The taxonomy amendment — including the Platform’s new report — will be scrutinized by the European Parliament and the Council in the next four months. But there may be a legal battle too.

In October 2021, lawyers at the nonprofit ClientEarth called on the European Commission to exclude gas from the taxonomy and warned that including it would be “unlawful” because it would contradict other EU laws, including the Paris Agreement and European Climate Law, which commits to reducing CO2 by 55 percent by 2030 and a climate-neutral Europe by 2050.

The political arm wrestle over the taxonomy confirms one thing: All obstacles to climate action have to do with economic and political interests, not science or technology, and especially not with the lack of grassroots mobilization, considering the uproar from environmental organizations and climate movements on the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy.

Scientific experts have reiterated what they have been saying since the beginning: gas and nuclear have no place in the taxonomy. And climate scientists have been warning global leaders about the risks of climate change and inaction for decades. Even investors know that the fossil fuel economy, based on environmental exploitation, isn’t convenient anymore.

“The Platform’s report is another warning bell that neither fossil gas nor nuclear power must enter the EU green taxonomy,” Sebastien Godinot, Senior Economist of WWF European Policy Office, said in a statement. “The Commission needs to listen to the science and abandon its proposal to greenwash gas and nuclear.”


1 For instance, from the European Environment Agency:

Electricity generation from hydropower and wind power must be normalised to smooth the effect of weather-related variations. In the case of hydropower, the normalisation is based on the ratio of electricity generation to the installed capacity averaged over 15 years; in the case of wind power, a similar normalisation formula is applied over 5 years.

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  1. Henry Moon Pie

    “Again, no one in a position of authority or even with a good media megaphone seems willing to state the obvious: the first line of defense is radical energy conservation. But it needs to include above all the energy hogs, which are the top wealthy, and they seem even less interested than ordinary citizens.”

    Absolutely right, Yves. And if anyone doubts it, I’d invite them to check out the EN-ROADS simulator, a tool put together by a team of MIT systems thinkers. Play with the sliders for a while. You’ll find that the most powerful one on the board is GDP growth rate–and the EN-ROADS simulator doesn’t even allow for a zero-growth option.

  2. JEHR

    The small province of New Brunswick is dipping its toes into nuclear power as the answer to getting rid of energy that produces greenhouse gases. This province has had its share of boondoggles (the Bricklin, ore emulsion non-sale) and does not need another.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Huh? We don’t have nuclear powered jets because the amount of lead cladding they would require to keep them from making staff and passengers glow in the dark makes them too heavy to fly. A safe nuclear train would similarly be hugely heavy and require vastly more power to operate than a conventional train.

          1. Matthew G. Saroff

            The Simpson’s best episode is “Bart Sells His Soul”.

            Not only do you have an on point reference to Pablo Naruda, but you also have a church choir tricked into singing Inna-Gadda-Davida.

  3. Larry

    Energy conservation is a non-starter politically. You would need elites as a whole to see it as necessary, but as Yves rightly points out, elites put all kinds of energy consuming carve outs for themselves. Can’t give up the private jets, can we? Hell, we can’t even snuff out crypto currencies which waste energy and technology for a huge scam. I wasn’t alive for it, but the “oil crisis” of the 1970s seems to be the closest we came to some pivot towards this. Yet from my reading, Carter was pilloried for putting on a sweater and turning down the heat.

    Europe and China’s push for BEV cars is another symptom of this. Energy intensive production with unknown wasteful life cycles for individualized transport. No serious effort at radically building out public transit, like say restoring street cars and interurban transit. Locally in my neck of the wood, the MBTA is working on discarding our last “trackless trolleys”. Electric busses that run on overhead wires. I used to ride this route all the time and the busses are truly great. Quiet, no diesel fumes. Running on infrastructure built ages ago. It seemed like the thing that should be expanded all over Boston. But no. They’ll get diesel busses for two years (probably more) and then full battery busses that cost more and can’t run for as long.

    1. jsn

      Thus far, the elites still see it as easier to cut back on population than consumption.

      When the Fed stomps the brakes and destroys what’s left of the small business economy, accelerating rather than damping inflation, it may start to dawn on some the integrated dependencies in industrial civilization.

      Financialization has created a condition in which the elite can operate entirely on their social heuristics without any understanding of the underlying systems massive complexity and integration their cavalier decisions are incrementally disintegrating. The collapse will proceed until political and financial institution, now that the two are merged, are so illegitimate that people who understand the systems can again take charge of them.

  4. Charles 2

    Few points :
    – tidal hydro is only a minuscule part of hydropower in Europe. Hydro is by an overwhelming majority based on rainfall in mountain ranges.
    – « green » or « sustainable » are not precisely defined concepts. Today there is no source of energy which is sustainable because to a various degree, materials for building the power plants and the combustible are sourced using fossil powered machines, and so are the related manufacturing processes.
    – there is a misleading logical fallacy putting nuclear power and fossil carbon power together because as they both require a fuel and produce waste, they both are unsustainable. But orders of magnitude have an importance : the share of the cost due to the extraction of the raw uranium counts very little in the price of nuclear power, so much that multiplying uranium prices by 4 to 10 only affects marginally the end cost. At 4 times current prices, extraction from seawater becomes viable and there is enough uranium for thousands of years. Thousands of years is not billions of years of course, but it is much better than the few decades of use of non renewable resources that we have left.
    – same reasoning is true for the waste problems : the waste of carbon fossil fuel is ejected in the atmosphere but the waste of nuclear is concentrated in comparatively minuscule volumes that are manageable. We may not have it solved thoroughly for the next millions years, but we already have solutions that can last a few centuries at least, and can be rolled over if needs be. That leaves us time to solve the urgent problems of climate change and fossils carbon fuel ressource depletion in the 21st and 22nd century. We can come back at it in the 23rd century and beyond. By that time, we will probably have space transportation safe and cost efficient enough to park the waste out of planet Earth.

    1. Hepativore

      We should also work on closing the nuclear fuel cycle, much like France which gets 80% of its energy supply from nuclear energy. Ironically, France gets a nice profit selling its energy surplus to nations like Germany, which has started building heavily-polluting, lignite-burning coal plants to make up for its energy defecit ever since it decided to shut down its nuclear energy program as a political stunt.

      There are also many different other applications for what you can do with nuclear process heat with some reactor designs, ranging from using it to make carbon-neutral synthetic fuels like diemethyl ether, nuclear desalination, as well as district heating in some urban centers.

    2. The Rev Kev

      I suspect that we will develop the technology to handle nuclear waste material the same day that we develop fusion power to the point that it is commercially viable. And even if the solutions to dealing with it lasts centuries, what is the point when that stuff lasts longer than recorded history? It lasts so long that scientists are trying to work out a warning sign for nuclear wastes that will be recognized by people in a few thousand years time who will speak completely different languages and have different values. It lasts that long. Yes, when concentrated in comparatively minuscule volumes, it is manageable. Such as digging a trench, putting that stuff in and then covering it up. But when it goes boom, then those small volumes are still deadly enough to clear out whole regions like they discovered in the Ukraine and Japan. If they solve the waste problem, then I will be onboard, But till then? Forget it.

      1. jefemt

        I seem to recall the French solution was 55 gallon steel drums in the Deep Ocean. And then they were caught.
        What could Possibly go wrong?

        Reading about Kemmerer, WY (birthplace home-town of JC Penny’s) re-tooling from coal boom to nuke boom, thanks to Dr. Pick a Winner Wm Gates Jr.
        Made me sad. Kemmer / Gates ‘newfangled nuke tech is an iteration of the failed Salt-type system that failed around Moorpark, CA in the early 60’s. Lotta cancer in that area.

        Nobody Cares. Nobody shares. Ironically, we all will share in the Unlimited Bounty of the Jackpot!

        What ever happened to Amory Lovins, advocate for soft energy paths and the easy low-hanging fruit of conservation? Think if we had gone that way when he was all the rage in the late 70’s early 80’s. Thank GOD for Reagan and Saint Miltie Friedman !!!

        Lovins became a contractor for the Military, apparently mothballed in a warehouse similar to the final resting place for The Ark of the Covenant in Spielberg’s Raiders ….

        The great thing about nukes is how little reinforced carbon intensive cement/concrete they require.
        Sort of like the ballast bollards under wind towers.

        No Free Energy Lunch

    3. The Historian

      “the waste of nuclear is concentrated in comparatively miniscule volumes that are manageable”


      I don’t get the trades from the nuclear industry anymore (too expensive) since I retired. They were full of ‘ideas’ of how to handle nuclear waste but no real solutions that could be implemented. So much for ‘managing’. But it sounded like they were doing ‘something’ so these ‘theories’ were what came out in their press releases.

      So because I no longer have access to the latest numbers (and theories) I went to google to see what I could find that has been happening with nuclear waste:

      Here in the US where we all know there is no nuclear waste depository for non-Defense waste:

      And in France:

      And in Germany:

      And in Japan:

      No country that I know of has a permanent or even semi-permanent place to put its ‘miniscule’ nuclear waste for long term storage right now (long term storage meaning storage for at least 100 years).

      BTW, ‘managing’ nuclear waste usually means just moving it around.

      Was it only 200 years ago that everyone thought dumping their pollutants into the air was the proper way to dispose of waste? I mean the atmosphere was vast and each plant was only putting out a small amount, wasn’t it? Not enough to cause any real problems! So now we are dealing (sort of) with that legacy. Have we learned nothing from that experience? So now, because we want as much energy as we can use, we are willing to repeat that cycle and pass our waste down to our grandchildren and great grandchildren. Only this time, we aren’t putting something into the air that can be removed in a generation, we are giving them a pollutant that will stay around for thousands of years.

      1. Bazarov

        What about Yucca Mountain? Sure, Reed put the kabash on it, but that doesn’t mean something like it wouldn’t work as a reasonably safe, long term solution to nuclear waste. Imagine a country like China, where NIMBYs don’t rule–why couldn’t they do something like that (and probably do it better)?

        And that doesn’t even factor in new, less wasteful reactor designs. China’s been very serious in its exploration of such designs. It has two experimental thorium reactors up and running right now, and the Chinese claim that they’ve overcome the design problems that hampered the thorium reactors of the 1950s.

        I say why not experiment with nuclear power in this time of great, great crisis and danger? We ought to throw everything we have (including radical energy conservation!) at the problem.

        1. The Historian

          Well, I’m done trying to convince people that nuclear probably isn’t the best way to handle our problems. I think I am beginning to sound like Kate from a recent movie!

          There are a lot of BASHes out there trying to tell us that we can have it all and their technology will save us from ourselves and make everything all better. You can believe that if you want – just “Don’t look up”!

          1. Bazarov

            Good to know that you think of yourself a protagonist in a Netflix movie, correcting us lowly secondary characters.

            If only we all could have top billing.

            1. The Historian

              Is that how you saw Kate in that movie – as someone correcting lowly secondary characters? I saw her as someone who understood the issue but was completely ineffective in getting her message across. That was what I was referring to.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            The fact that you ignore the mention of thorium is telling.

            Thorium burns through the input material and leaves effectively no radioactive waste.

            The problem with thorium is it is gonna be too long before it is deployed to be of much help.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Thorium reactors produce 1/1000th to 1/10,000 of the waste of a nuclear reactor.


                You also may not be up on improvements in the technology. From a 2016 article:

                “Since we run the MSR with thorium instead of uranium, this reactor has the potential to produce electricity safely, and in an extremely clean and sustainable manner. Thorium itself is not a fuel but a breeding material that decays into uranium-233 which is highly fissile. The uranium continues to circulate in the salt, as a result of which very little radioactive waste is produced. Moreover, the most (potentially) hazardous elements continue to circulate in the salt solution until they have been completely split into fission products.”
                Ample thorium

                “In an MSR, we are able to utilise the thorium fully. This means that we only need 2,500 tons of thorium per year to produce all the electricity worldwide, while each year up to 50 times more thorium is being extracted from the ground by the existing mining industry,” said Kloosterman. “If you could fuel your car’s tank with just a tiny piece of the thorium-containing mineral Aeschynite, you would definitely be able to drive at least once around the entire world.”

                “Many of the above principles were already demonstrated decades ago at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA) in a highly successful reactor with more than 6,000 hours of operation. Though this reactor did not yet purify the salt or use thorium as a breeding material.”
                Role of TU Delft

                The Netherlands and TU Delft in particular play a special role in this field. “About ten years ago, we re-embraced the molten salt reactor technology at TU Delft and very quickly made a number of improvements. Our design is even safer and cleaner than the initial American version.”

                “But there is scope for further improvement. At present, we are working at a European level to develop a reactor design that will also allow us to destroy the nuclear waste generated from existing reactors. In addition, this reactor will be able to adequately compensate for the (inevitable) fluctuations in electricity generation based on solar and wind energy. With a smart combination of solar, wind and nuclear technology, we can arrive at a truly robust and sustainable electricity supply.”


                1. The Historian

                  You are right. I am not up on the latest technology. I left the field almost 10 years ago when I retired and pretty much abandoned researching it. I also have never worked with Thorium reactors or their waste – not any chances to do so – so I only know what I read. Thanks for this article!

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    I did oversimplify but I have been frustrated that thorium has gone nowhere. It seems like a pretty good technology, particularly for addressing the base load issue. The question to which I have no answer is the cost of building these plants. Concrete has high environmental cost. But the Delft piece suggests reactors could be small scale, and given that thorium going in is less radioactive, it may not require as much costly cladding of various forms.

                    1. The Historian

                      Even with what I’ve read in the past about them, if we are to continue down the nuclear path, thorium reactors do seem to be the way to go. Less waste and less long-lived waste gives future generations a better chance at survival.

                    2. Yves Smith Post author

                      We are not in a world where best choices are possible. We’re not going to reduce energy consumption fast enough, except through species dieoff, including ours.

                    3. Xiaolei Mu

                      China started testing an experimental MSR utlizing thorium in fall 2021. Location is Wuwei. Experts are hopeful that in case of success, this might clear the way for commercialization.

      2. Recall

        Was it only 200 years ago that everyone thought dumping their pollutants into the air was the proper way to dispose of waste?

        No, we’re doing it right now more than we ever did 200 years ago.

      3. wendigo

        No permanent place for used fuel.

        More money to be made temporarily storing it and sucking money out of the government to research reprocessing. Like all nuclear waste management, a grift.

      4. Hepativore


        I think this might be helpful in clearing up some misconceptions on nuclear energy. It was posted awhile ago on the now-defunct Depleted Cranium blog…a rational-skepticism blog…and it goes into detail on various topics that are easy to understand. I managed to find it using the Wayback Machine…

        What Is Spent Fuel, Anyway?

        What Does It Cost To Build Nuclear Reactor? What Could It Cost?

        1. The Historian

          Early in my career I oversaw and managed spent nuclear fuel pools. I also served as a duty officer on the last spent fuel reprocessing run at my plant. I do know the difference between the nuclear world’s hype and reality.

  5. Solarjay

    Thanks charles2.
    To add about the nuclear, some of the Gen IV plants can use spent fuel from other reactors as their fuel. It takes a product with 30,000 year radioactivity to 300 yrs.

    1. John Steinbach

      Even if the “new generation IV nukes work as proposed, a proposition many disagree with (For example, see WISE ) there simply isn’t enough time to build enough nukes to make an appreciable difference. Radical conservation, whether planned for or forced by resource and environmental constraints, is our future.

      1. Solarjay

        People are converting to BEV for environmental reasons even though the ROE( return on energy) is at maybe 100,000 miles or 6-10 years? That’s not very fast.

        I agree with you that US nuclear plants have taken too long to build to be of much help in the next 10’yrs. Look to other countries and they are being built in just a few. Standardized designs greatly speed up the building process. I know that engineering reviews take a long time, again standardized greatly speeds this up.

        For example, just yesterday my latest Simple residental solar system was signed off, after 6 months from initial submittal to the county snd utility. Total time for the actual installation? 4 days. If a nuclear plant construction is anything like that it can sure be built faster.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think the nuclear industry has backed themselves into a hole when it comes to scale and standardization. The Koreans had some success with reducing costs through modularization, but only to a fairly limited degree. The Chinese, notably, haven’t really tried, which suggests that they don’t see much value in it. There appears to be major bottlenecks when it comes to the type of very large pressure vessels involved – very few companies in the world can make them. The new UK Rolls Royce design has tried to go in the other direction, scaling the plants down to try to make them cheaper for mass production. But this loses the scale advantage of a big GW sized thermal plant.

          The problem is that as with any thermal plants, you have to go very large scale to make them efficient. But very large scale plants are not really suitable for modularization. And if you try to build a lot at once, you don’t get the benefit of building up a base of engineering skills to drive down costs. The EPR has failed for this reason – its just proven too difficult and expensive to build.

          The simple reality is that the nuclear industry has tried everything then can think of over the past half century to drive down construction costs and they’ve failed. Its pretty clear that PWR’s are as mature a tech as you can get and they are still hideously expensive. Only a new generation of designs could succeed, and it will take decades of work to develop them. That’s far too slow.

  6. Parker Dooley

    Do they incorporate the potential effects of terrorism and/or incompetence into their assessments? /s

    1. Solarjay

      Good question.
      The answer has to do with the ratio of U 235 to 238.
      Reactor ratios are like 3% 235 for reactor, but you need 90% for a bomb. Reactors use up the 235 so this amount decreases over its use.

      Here is a professor of energy taking about nuclear energy and he does bring up your question about bomb being made from reactor fuel. It clears up a lot.

  7. Bob

    More nonsense from the utility companies.

    First any discussion of electrical energy cost MUST use real numbers. This is not a place for feelings or opinions.

    At present the best sources for electrical energy costs are

    Second the motive of the power companies must be understood.
    Most US power companies (and I suspect this model includes European companies too) are cost plus operations this is a built-in incentive to generate high priced power.
    This is why in Ohio, why in South Carolina Both of these generators struggled mightily to save their high priced, cost plus generation

    Third there is a canard promulgated by the electrical generating companies that “The sun don’t shine all of the time” which leads to a lie that photovoltaics (PV) are unreliable. In fact PV is very reliable during the periods of sunshine. And it is cheaper!! (See Lazard / DOE)

    Fourth changes in electrical lighting especially “nighttime security lighting” is being directly impacted by LED applications. It is estimated that lighting accounts for 25% of all electrical consumption and that LEDs can reduce that by half. Not to mention that LED lighting does not have the “restrike” lag which allows LED to have an instant on feature. This means that LED lighting esp security lighting can be controlled by sensors.

    Fifth Energy conservation is simple -“If you don’t need it turn it off” Oh and this means turning off lights in areas are unoccupied. And for real savings turn off your electric water heater when you leave for a week end. You don’t need the government to do this for you.

    Sixth The French reliance on nukes in the past has been severely impacted by lack of cooling water caused by low rain fall. Nukes ain’t as reliable as folks think

  8. QuantumSoma

    Just build the reactors deep underground, with the intention of operating them for a few centuries, then simply abandoning them. A 500 meter deep deposit of radioactive materials isn’t going to hurt anybody, unless they go digging for it. You also get the benefit of meltdowns not presenting a danger to the surface.

  9. Bob


    Nukes are too expensive. In fact they are among the most expensive sources of electric generation.

    See or
    DOE –

    And of course when they fail the costs are astronomical. And any mechanical system will fail it is only a question of when. Look no further than Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Chalk River, Enrico Fermi and so on.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m not a fan of nuclear but generalizing from Fukushima is intellectually dishonest. That reactor was put on a completely ridiculous site. Even then more could and should have been done to harden the site and wasn’t:

      The Fukushima accident was, however, preventable. Had the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and Japan’s regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), followed international best practices and standards, it is conceivable that they would have predicted the possibility of the plant being struck by a massive tsunami. The plant would have withstood the tsunami had its design previously been upgraded in accordance with state-of-the-art safety approaches.

      The methods used by TEPCO and NISA to assess the risk from tsunamis lagged behind international standards in at least three important respects:

      Insufficient attention was paid to evidence of large tsunamis inundating the region surrounding the plant about once every thousand years.

      Computer modeling of the tsunami threat was inadequate. Most importantly, preliminary simulations conducted in 2008 that suggested the tsunami risk to the plant had been seriously underestimated were not followed up and were only reported to NISA on March 7, 2011.

      NISA failed to review simulations conducted by TEPCO and to foster the development of appropriate computer modeling tools.

      At the time of the accident, critical safety systems in nuclear power plants in some countries, especially in European states, were—as a matter of course—much better protected than in Japan. Following a flooding incident at Blayais Nuclear Power Plant in France in 1999, European countries significantly enhanced their plants’ defenses against extreme external events. Japanese operators were aware of this experience, and TEPCO could and should have upgraded Fukushima Daiichi.

      TEPCO sounds like Japan’s answer to PG&E. You wouldn’t generalize about electrical grid safety based on PG&E.

      I think there’s a case for not decommissioning nuclear reactors that are in locations that are not exposed to earthquakes, tsunamis, and storm surges and are up to date on necessary safety enhancements.

  10. Eclair

    I recently slogged through Michael Mann’s ‘The New Climate Wars.’ He has strong reservations regarding geo-engineering and nuclear and seems to regard ‘renewables,’ i.e., solar, wind, tide, as the answer to the climate problem.

    The introduction of one’s ‘carbon footprint,’ he points out as a concept developed by the fossil-fuel industry, as a way to deflect attention from a systemic change solution and focus mainly on the individual’s fault. He identifies this as a corporate tactic to sow divisiveness among the populace. A kind of ‘virtue signaling,’ involving finger-pointing; look at his humungous gas-guzzling SUV, while I drive my gas-sipping teeny-car.

    Unless I missed something in his book (and I admit I did a lot of skimming,) he does not address conservation. I think Yves is correct: the first line of defense is radical energy conservation. But the wealthy aren’t interested in conservation, for obvious reasons. Mann advocates for a hefty carbon tax and thinks the ‘social injustice’ fallout from this could be addressed through subsidies, thus avoiding the ‘yellow-vest-reaction.’

    Well, a hefty marginal tax rate on income and wealth could encourage conservation as well. But, as my spouse pointed out, as we walked by the tent city hosted by the Lutheran church up the street, the homeless have almost zero carbon footprint. A few more years of sky-rocketing costs of college, medical care, land/real estate/rents, and now food and gas, with attendant debt peonage, and the carbon foot-print of most of us will be approaching zero. Fortunately, there are more of us than there are of them.

  11. david anthony

    Fracking puts more methane in the atmosphere. And that heats up the earth quick. The graphs tell the obvious story. Since the fracking boom started, we’ve been shooting up like never before.

    Natural gas is the route to quick extinction.

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