Future of Nuclear Energy

Recent months have witnessed notable developments with respect to the future role of nuclear energy, and in particular its contribution to mitigating climate change. In early January of this year, the European Commission released a draft of its updated regulations on environmentally sustainable economic activities, the Complementary Delegated Act of the EU Taxonomy Regulation. For the first time, the Commission has proposed including nuclear energy and natural gas as sustainable green investments. These plans have prompted pushback and criticism from a number of European states, but in the event that the draft plan is adopted, the significance of its implications would resonate far beyond the EU’s borders, where countries that benefit from EU financing for their sustainable and energy infrastructures, including those across the Middle East, may be able to mobilize these investments towards their nuclear energy programs that are either planned or underway.

Also of note is the United States’ “Nuclear Futures Package,” unveiled a few months earlier in November 2021, which seeks to advance nuclear power generation and innovative technologies such as small modular reactors through efforts including capacity building, feasibility and siting studies, and technical collaborations. The initiative is valued modestly at US $25 million and only included a few countries at the time of its announcement, but it nonetheless highlights the US’ support for nuclear technologies as a means of meeting global climate change commitments. Future iterations or expansions of this or similar support packages may very well include some Middle Eastern countries, in light of their stated interest in nuclear power to diversify energy portfolios and cut back on fossil fuel reliance. Given instances of international skepticism and domestic public resistance to regional nuclear programs, the EU and US moves raise questions about the role of nuclear energy in combating the climate crisis, both internationally and in the Middle East.

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