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Are nuclear and natural gas plants ‘green’? Europe says yes

European Parliament paves the way for new subsidies and loans after labeling nuclear and gas projects as environmentally friendly

SHARE Are nuclear and natural gas plants ‘green’? Europe says yes
Taillights trace the path of a motor vehicle at the Naughton Power Plant on Jan. 13, 2022, in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

Taillights trace the path of a motor vehicle at the Naughton Power Plant on Jan. 13, 2022, in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The Supreme Court decision June 30, restricting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency may mean continued pollution from power plants in states that are not switching to cleaner energy. But many states are switching and experts say they’ll remain free to keep cleaning up their electrical grids under the new decision.

Natalie Behring, Associated Press

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of a new law that will consider natural gas and nuclear projects “green,” making them eligible for lost-cost loans and subsidies.

The vote narrowly passed during a meeting in Strasbourg, France, with 328 votes supporting the proposal, and 278 against.

What “green” means: Now, nuclear and natural gas plants will be added to the European Union’s “taxonomy,” a list that classifies projects and activities as having a low environmental impact.

The taxonomy provides companies, investors and politicians with “appropriate definitions for which economic activties can be considered environmentally sustainable,” according to the E.U., and is intended to combat greenwashing and open industries to state-subsidies and cheap loans.

New gas and nuclear plants can soon tap into previously unavailable funding if they are replacing coal stations, and investors can label them as environmentally friendly which experts say will incentivize countries to start new projects.

Unless 20 of Europe’s 27 countries oppose the law, which Reuters reports is highly unlikely, it will go into effect in 2023 after approval from the European Union.

Why it matters: The vote comes as Europe’s nuclear industry is struggling, according to Bloomberg, despite nearly one quarter of the 27-nation bloc relying on it for electricity.

The new law is also intended to boost energy production among European countries currently struggling to replace Russian sources amid its invasion of Ukraine. However, as Europe seeks to penalize the Kremlin for the war, critics of the law worry incentivizing gas production will only funnel more money to Russia, the region’s largest natural gas producer.

The new classification could have sweeping impacts beyond Europe, as countries including the U.S. look to diversify energy sources and boost domestic production, according to the New York Times.

Critics say nuclear and gas is not “green”: The new law was met with boos, from parliamentarians in the chamber and protesters gathered outside, according to the Times.

Gas is a fossil fuel that, while far less than coal, produces greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. And nuclear energy produces harmful radioactive waste.

Both are controversial sources of energy, but many European countries view them as a critical alternative to coal.

Still, Luxembourg and Austria are gearing up to challenge the decision in court.

“It is neither credible, ambitious nor knowledge-based, endangers our future and is more than irresponsible,” Austrian climate minister Leonore Gewessler told Reuters.

And Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, called the law a “terrible decision ... that could last for years or decades to come. This is without a doubt the biggest greenwash in history, and we’re not going to tolerate it.”

Greenpeace will also contest the law in court.