How a vote by the European Parliament has suddenly shuffled the uranium pack
The future of uranium mining in Namibia has just taken a dramatic turn after the European Parliament voted in Strasbourg on Wednesday 06 July to accept proposals that natural gas and nuclear energy must be included in a list of activities that is classified as “green.”
Earlier in the year, in June, these proposals were still blocked by the Members of Parliament serving in two committees responsible for economic and environmental affairs. This required that the entire House must vote on the EU Commission’s proposals, a vote which was cast on Wednesday and in which the earlier objection was rejected.
According to the European Union’s newsroom, Wednesday’s vote paves the way for both gas and nuclear to be included in the EU list of sustainable activities. Members of the European Parliament pointed out that Europe needs both sources to help ensure energy security and to boost the decarbonisation quest.
Half of the European Parliament or 353 votes were required to veto the EU Commission’s proposal but only 328 members voted against it with 33 abstaining. If there are no further objections, gas and nuclear will become part of the so-called EU Taxonomy which classifies selected economic activities as ‘sustainable’, in other words as ‘green.’
The Taxonomy comprises an extensive list of economic activities, each carrying detailed criteria that must be met before receiving the green label.
It is an understatement to say that I was baffled. It is perhaps more correct to describe my first reaction as being completely flabbergasted. But I was not the only person who noticed the irony and who realised the enormous financial implications of what was decided in Strasbourg. The vote quickly led to a volley of recriminations and to public protests.
The significance of this marked shift in energy policy was also not lost on Europe’s investment fraternity and by late Wednesday several major investment managers had already released statements to highlight the future investment potential of gas and uranium plays. The immediate and positive reaction from the investment community made me realise many very large funds have been waiting for an opportunity to get into nuclear in a much bigger way but has always been blocked by either sentiment or regulation or both. This has now suddenly changed and unless something dramatic happens in the European Parliament by 11 July, Wednesday’s vote will be confirmed.
What bowled me out was the unexpected change of direction and shift in policy. I have been following the nuclear debate in Europe for about 30 years and remember well when concerned Germans laid themselves on railway tracks to bar the transport of nuclear waste.
But I have also learned that there is a massive amount of hypocrisy in Europe’s nuclear industry and that German regulators deem it OK when factories use energy derived from nuclear power stations, as long as those facilities are not on German territory. So, in a sense it is not nuclear that influences a large measure of European sentiment but rather the mundane fact of where the power station is located.
I think, in a lesser sense, this also applies to natural gas. As long as the gas comes from somewhere else, in this case from Russia, it is fine and politicians can continue eyeblinding their electorate that Europe’s energy is “clean” which it is not.
The biggest irony is that a lot of this sentiment is also encountered in Namibia, perhaps as a result of the strong linkages that we have with Germany. For many years, I was a fairly lonely voice when I advocated that we must build our own nuclear power station for our own energy security and to reduce our dependence on South Africa.
It is important to note that I am not a nuclear scientist but I have spoken to a number of them over the years. I think the general feel was that running a nuclear power station does not constitute any significant risk bigger than mining uranium and producing uranium oxide.
Even the thorny issue of what to do with the waste was long ago solved by the scientists involved in the research at that time. Being such an arid country, Namibia has a number of ideal locations where waste can be stored without contamination of groundwater or the surface ecology, and these sites are very far away from human settlements.
So, if the vote is affirmed after 11 July and the power of the investment taxonomy kicks in, expect some dramatic moves in the local uranium mining sector. I will not be amazed if suddenly we again have substantial interest from European investors to try and regain the nuclear territory which they have conceded to Chinese sovereign investments.