Uranium Week: European Nuclear Decision Pending

Weekly Reports | Mar 09 2021

While the spot uranium price has declined nearly -20% in the last eight weeks, the market awaits an important decision by the European Commission on radioactive waste.

-Nuclear defined as transition fuel or polluter?
-China’s Five Year Plan nuclear targets  
-Spot uranium slides over -10% during 2021

By Mark Woodruff

A decision to be made this month could have implications not only for private investment in nuclear power but also the extent to which European Union member countries could sponsor and/or underwrite their domestic nuclear programs.

The European Commission’s internal research body, the Joint Research Centre, is set to release a report that could ultimately recognise nuclear power as a "transition fuel" under the EU’s "green finance" rule book. Alternatively, it may irreversibly regard it as a polluting form of energy that does "significant harm" to the environment.

A review is currently underway focusing on the safe handling of radioactive waste. Industry consultant TradeTech highlights results of the review could prove pivotal in a decision on whether to include nuclear power as a sustainable energy option for the EU in the future. 

In a broad sense, Taxonomy is the science of classification and EU Taxonomy is a classification tool that specifically defines the types of activity that will be considered environmentally sustainable.

EU taxonomy also aligns with the European Green Deal policy that has the dual aim of establishing carbon neutrality by 2050, and supporting the regional economy through green investment. 

By pre-qualifying sustainable activities, its expected support can be channelled into the most appropriate areas. Examples of support include investment, grants, low interest debt, and underwriting.

According to figures released by the International Energy Agency, global nuclear power output increased slightly in 2020, despite covid-19 having a significant effect on energy demand worldwide. Nuclear plants supplied 2,600 terrawatt hours (TWh) of emissions-free electricity in 2020 (2,586 TWh in 2019), accounting for 10% of global electricity and nearly one third of the world’s low-carbon electricity production.  

The resilience of nuclear power, hailed as one of its key benefits, has been clearly demonstrated by its 2020 performance in the face of both pandemic-related supply challenges and reduced electricity demand in many countries.

Country News

China released its 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2026) last week, setting a five-year growth target for its nuclear power program as part of a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2060.  

According to the plan, China aims to have 70GW of nuclear generation capacity installed by 2025, compared to about 48GW at year-end 2020. Brandon Munro, Co-Chair of the World Nuclear Association’s Nuclear Fuel Demand Working Group explains, “China’s 2025 target of 70GW of installed nuclear capacity sits mid-way between the WNA’s Reference Scenario and Upper Scenario. China will require six to seven new reactors to commence construction in 2021 for this goal to be achieved.”

The country will also continue advancing its domestically developed Hualong One reactor design, consistent with its core strategy of technology independence. 

To build a green economy and pave the way for achieving a long-term carbon emissions goal by 2030, the plan calls for lowering energy consumption per unit of Gross Domestic Product by -13.5% and cutting CO2 emissions by -18%.

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