From the New York Times article "Europe Plans to Say Nuclear Power and Natural Gas Are Green Investments":

The European Union has drawn up plans to classify some nuclear power and natural gas plants as green investments that can help Europe cut planet-warming emissions, a landmark proposal that, if approved, could set off a resurgence of nuclear energy on the continent in the coming decades.

Proponents argue that this classification is necessary in order to transition the grid to 100% zero emissions. The "transitional" nature is built in to the proposal, as investments in nuclear plants only count as "sustainable" through 2045.

Critics argue that this classification will result in a build-up of radioactive waste and increased risk of accidents, and trigger a "nuclear renaissance," resulting in increased waste and risk outside the EU as well.

Have other nations or regions classified nuclear power as "sustainable" like this? I am interested in classifications or policies that treat nuclear similar to "traditional" clean energy sources (wind, solar, hydro, etc) from either a policy or investment perspective.

  • as an aside, when did we decide to call it "natural" gas?
    – njzk2
    Jan 4, 2022 at 20:49
  • @njzk2 it's used more often than methane, per google ngrams
    – LShaver
    Jan 4, 2022 at 22:02
  • 3
    @njzk2, natural gas, as opposed to the synthetic gas that saw widespread use prior to the development of natural-gas transmission techniques.
    – Mark
    Jan 5, 2022 at 4:02
  • "resulting in increased waste and risk outside the EU as well" That's not true. Already many countries outside the EU are building or designing new nuclear plants and the limited availability of Uranium will not allow a much bigger growth rate.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 5, 2022 at 10:26
  • 1
    For the interested, here is a 2018 paper that describes why nuclear power seems to be the only option for Europe to zero emissions in 2050. Very well explained. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306261918312790
    – Alex Poca
    Jan 7, 2022 at 11:17

4 Answers 4


China has been approving the construction of new nuclear power plants with official statements referring to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with nuclear energy. The statements don't seem to mention the terms green nor do they draw a direct parallel to more conventional forms of renewable energy (like the wind/solar/hydro in your question).

Despite the lack of labels, I think it's worth mentioning because for all intents and purposes China uses nuclear energy to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Reporting by the South China Morning Post quoted a Chinese Cabinet statement following the approval of two nuclear plants in 2020, writing:

“Pushing forward the construction of nuclear power projects actively and steadily is an important measure to expand effective investment, enhance energy support and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the cabinet said in an official statement after the meeting.

The quote does mention the term investment but not in the context of how the Chinese government labels nuclear energy explicitly. The way I read the statement, it's more of an implicit approval of these kinds of projects that encourages investments.

(The reasoning on nuclear energy cost and taxes below may be a bit dated, it's the most recent information that I could find and understand given the language barrier.)

From a tax perspective, nuclear energy in China seems to share some of the benefits of renewable energy sources by being taxed less. According to a 2017 paper in Sustainability entitled Dynamic Integrated Resource Strategic Planning Model: A Case Study of China’s Power Sector Planning into 2050 by Yan Xu et al.:

From Table 4, Path 1 is based on the original assumption of S2, namely the high level of coal resource tax, environmental pollution tax, carbon tax and solar PV tariff subsidies, among this, the carbon tax will be levied from 2020. Thus, the LCOE [Levelised Cost of Energy] of coal power will rise quickly since 2020. Benefiting from the tariff subsidies policy, the generation costs of PV power show the tendency of rapid decline. Due to the lower generation cost, the hydropower and nuclear power will be selected and included in the planning preferentially. Because of a high level of coal resource tax, environmental pollution tax and carbon tax, the fuel costs of coal power would significantly increase, considering that the external cost to lead the LCOE of coal power would rise quickly and play a certain inhibitory effect of large-scale installation of coal power.

In other words, nuclear energy gets taxed more favorably compared to fossil fuels like coal. That's not because the government labelled it a green option explicitly. Instead, the fundamentals of nuclear energy greatly reduce or exempt it from the coal resource tax and the carbon tax.

The paper also mention an environmental pollution tax but it's not clear to me if at the what extent that applies to nuclear energy. For example, spent nuclear fuel may need to be handled with care though it's not clear if China taxes that explicitly. I found a paper on taxes on spent nuclear fuel but it touches only briefly on China and it's not clear what the current policy is.

As for energy prices, it seems the Chinese set the rate at which energy producers may sell energy. At least in the past, nuclear plants were allowed to sell at higher prices compared to thermal (e.g. coal-fired) energy plants. According to a 2013 blog on piie.com:

Second, nuclear power producers benefit from more favorable pricing. In China, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) controls the price at which power producers may sell their electricity to the grid. In order to promote the growth of cleaner forms of electricity (and save dwindling water resources) the rate thermal and hydro power producers receive for their electricity is set lower than nuclear, wind, and now solar power. Since 2007 the on-grid tariff for nuclear power has been between 10 and 25 percent higher than thermal power. This year, NDRC increased this gap further by lowering the on-grid tariff for thermal power, while keeping the tariff for nuclear power essentially stable.

In that article, they listed the average RMB prices per kWh for 2007 till 2010. They were (in descending order): 0.57 for wind, 0.44 for nuclear, 0.37 for thermal (e.g. coal), and 0.26 for hydro energy. That shows nuclear energy was allowed to charge almost 19% more than energy from thermal plants.

As I said, I'm not sure what this gap between nuclear and coal-fired prices looks like now. It seems the National Energy Administration (or rather their local counterparts) still issue these 'benchmark prices' based on this announcement for 2021 (in Chinese). In 2013 they released this announcement on nuclear energy specifically.

In conclusion, the lack of an explicit labeling of nuclear energy as green does not mean it's not considered green in practice. The Chinese government's communication and their energy pricing put nuclear energy on par with more traditionally renewable forms of energy.

  • 7
    Somewhat off-topic but China started building molten salt reactor, which is much safer and "greener" than traditional reactors: livescience.com/china-creates-new-thorium-reactor.html. Jan 5, 2022 at 15:26
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    @wha7ever All modern reactors are much safer than the traditional reactors we've grown up with. Accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl simply can't happen by any reactor built in the past 20 years due to safety on safety and redundancy on redundancy. I've seen some pretty safe chemical and food-processing plants (another industry that got way safer the past decades as long as we only look at plants from or updated in the past 25 years) and nuclear made those same leaps exponentially. The Cattenom plant in France has caught fire multiple times and is still running safely, for example.
    – Mast
    Jan 6, 2022 at 20:39
  • And that's mostly an updated version of an old reactor. Not even close to new. The newer ones go way beyond that.
    – Mast
    Jan 6, 2022 at 20:40
  • Huh, very good to know! Regardless, I am still very excited about the molten salt reactor. Jan 7, 2022 at 15:45

Similarly to the answer about China, the UK also uses nuclear energy to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. This is a coalition government paper from 2010.

UK gov long-term nuclear strategy

Government has previously set out its policy that nuclear energy should play an important role – alongside renewable energy and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – in the UK’s energy mix, both now and in the future.

And more recently the UK government announced funding for nuclear power generation in a 10 point Green plan

Nuclear: Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs.

  • 2
    You have to be careful about the UK government announcing funding, as they may announce the same funding more than once. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I read about that to provide a citation. Jan 6, 2022 at 17:33
  • @AndrewMorton while that is true, I'm more interested in the 'clean energy source' part of the announcement than the actual funding. The investment part of the question is I feel less important than the green labelling.
    – Jontia
    Jan 6, 2022 at 19:20

In the US, NY state tackles the question of whether to favor nuclear electric generation in its clean-energy policy. The state resolves the question by creating two parallel financial mechanisms

  • Renewable Energy Credits (REC), which do not include nuclear
  • Zero Emission Credits (ZEC), which do include nuclear

REC is meant primarily for wind, solar and hydro. ZEC is effectively a transfer-subsidy with the specific goal of keeping nuclear from going out of business as a result of competition from cheaper alternatives. [see discussion of ZEC].

The context is the state's evolving Clean Energy Standard, whose objectives were accelerated under the recent CLCPA legislation. The administrative process of implementation CLCPA is ongoing.

Discussion of ZEC:

"As there are too few owners of the affected nuclear generation facilities to create sufficient competition to determine an accurate price to be paid for ZECs, the price of ZECs would be administratively determined by the Commission." source [1] below

The instructions given to the commission regarding what considerations to use to determine pricing, are rather convoluted. The bottom line seems to be that we don't want existing nuclear to go out of business during the "transitional period", which is penciled in as thru 2029. The document includes a review of the stakeholder commentary on the matter, both pro and con.

From an environmental perspective, the justification for ZEC is that North American natural gas has been so cheap that nuclear cannot compete economically. Critics point out that the ZEC mechanism entrenches the nuclear operators, by giving them an administrative lever to protect themselves against wind/solar/hydro.

Detailed Sources:

Within the following document set, from NYSERDA's Public Service Commission , select the documents:

[1] "Order Adopting A Clean Energy Standard", 8/1/2016

[2] "Order Adopting Modifications to the Clean Energy Standard", 10/15/2020 (this describes the revision per CLCPA)


Are we talking just nations? I recall Illinois had a revelation on the need for nuclear power when a nuclear power plant threatened to close passing a law that gave "green credit" to the power plant to keep it open. I believe Wisconsin had passed a similar law for the same reason.

Can you define the line on embracing nuclear power because it is "green" and embracing it for other reasons? The line gets blurred real quick when any nation is going to consider its options.

The UK government did a number of studies on how to address their energy supply. One analysis showed the advantage of nuclear power on costs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source#United_Kingdom

The lead scientist for many of these studies was Dr. David MacKay, he wrote a book on how the various energy sources compare: https://www.withouthotair.com/

Land use will be an issue, perhaps a "green" issue if it means land set aside for energy crops, flooded for hydro power, or covered in solar panels. This was highlighted in Dr. MacKay's analysis.

The lack of land availability can be seen on charts like this: http://www.inference.org.uk/sustainable/data/powerd/MapOfWorld.html Not all the charts show that nuclear power can produce 1000 watts per square meter, this is compared to 0.5 to 20 watts per square meter from various forms of energy from wind, water, and sun.

No doubt every nation looking at their energy policy will have decision makers that are aware of Dr. MacKay's work. So every nation lacking sufficient land to meet their energy needs by wind, water, and sun will know they need nuclear power. They will know the land, labor, and material needs of each option. Where's the line on deciding nuclear power is a good idea because it is "green" and because it's cheaper?

Here's a list of nuclear power plants under construction, it's going to be hard to separate which nations chose nuclear power because it is "green" versus discovering they don't have another option: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/plans-for-new-reactors-worldwide.aspx

30 nations are building nuclear power plants now. Certainly everyone made this decision in part because of nuclear power producing little in CO2 per energy output. It was in part because of less need for land and materials. It was also in part because of costs.

How many nations declared nuclear power "green"? Dozens. It may not be explicit but the knowledge of lower environmental impact would have played a part in every nation choosing nuclear power.

  • 3
    This doesn't answer the question.
    – LShaver
    Jan 7, 2022 at 15:57

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