Reportedly, the EU Commission plans to soon include nuclear power in its green finance taxonomy, finally making it eligible for favorable financing and carbon credits on a par with wind and solar.
This could be spun two ways: as a victory for science over populist capture of climate policies, or as a tipping point in Brussels angst at the growing complexities and costs of the “100% renewables and no nuclear” model.
In reality, it’s some and some.
On the one hand, in March, the Commission received reports solicited from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), its scientific expert arm, finding that nuclear waste is “manageable”, posing no “significant” harm to the environment, and that nuclear energy has been demonstrated to be eminently safe.
However, these assessments are not surprising. Had the Commission requested these years ago, they undoubtedly would have concluded similarly. Nuclear, public-health, risk-assessment and other expert bodies have been saying these things for years (full disclosure: my PhD is in experimental nuclear physics ).
The question then is, why is this scientific consensus only now becoming actionable for the Commission?
Here’s our TRT Roundtable on Annelene Baerbock as new German Green Foreign Minister. The questions included, will/can she:
Prioritize human rights in China and Russia over German trade?
Stand strong vs Putin’s Ukraine-invasion threats?
Insist Chancellor Scholz (SPD) kills Nord Stream2?
Can the new German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, co-chair of the Green Party, possibly make any difference in German foreign policy under the strong hand of the new SPD Chancellor, Olaf Scholz?
I appeared on David Foster’s “TRT World” show, produced in London, to discuss Germany’s first woman foreign minister, whose Green Party is now governing with the Social Democrats (SPD) and liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
Ms. Baerbock, the first woman foreign minister in German history, has a steep hurdle to overcome to put any imprint on German foreign policy. For example, the chair of Scholz’ party, said this week that he sees Putin’s 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders as, rather incredibly, a case of “mutual threats,” quite different from Minister Baerbock’s public views before assuming this office.
As Nato, EU and USA relations vis-a-vis Russia and China heat up, Minister Baerbock comes with no previous foreign affairs experience, and SPD Chancellor Scholz is expected to dominate foreign policy, just as Angela Merkel’s office did previously. [See footnote]
I discussed her much-asserted intent to shift to a “values-centered” foreign policy, to criticizing Russian and Chinese human rights violations, which were not emphasized by the “pragmatic” and “interest-based” foreign polity of Angela Merkel.
I also discussed her avowed “post-pacifist” political ideology – e.g., in favor of speaking more strongly than most Greens have traditionally done in favor of NATO security (and perhaps expansion?) in Eastern and Central Europe, and than either the CDU and especially the SPD generally would, and also for a “European Army” to enhance EU defense capacities. However, what she exactly means by this is not so clear, and till now this stance has tended to be a distinction without any great practical difference to the policies of either the former CEU or the new SPD chancellor.
For example, as I pointed out, last week she indeed spoke clearly in opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a threat to Ukrainian security, and further said that it cannot be certified as it now stands, under EU law.. However, while she was in opposition, she consistently demanded the project be abandoned. Now, as foreign minister, she has only thus far stating what is known: that the pipeline is not possible to certify legally and bring into operation as its present ownership structure would violate the anti-monopoly provisions of European law (and, therefore, too German law), known as the “Third Energy Package.”
However, she has said nothing really new here. Gazprom and its Nord Stream 2 AG subsidiary are now increasingly being seen to be on legal thin ice (e.g., I gave a historical overview of this Gazprom difficulty in my 05.12.2021 Kyiv talk video: Plan C: Gazprom’s failures on Nord Stream 2 and in my written explanation accompanying it).
The question is, will she demand of Scholz that the pipeline be abandoned, especially not that Putin is openly threatening to commits new aggression against Ukraine? And, the Americans will demand it is he takes any such step, based on their reading of the “deal” they made with Mrs. Merkel’s government that the pipeline must not be used as an energy weapon and that an invasion of Ukraine would especially require the project being killed.
Should she do so, she has a very steep climb ahead in her governing coalition, especially coming up against the firm support for the project within Scholz’ SPD..
My fellow expert panelists included
Dr. Samuel Ramani, Researcher in International Relations at University of Oxford/ Associate follow at RUSI
NOTA BENE: A really very informative background deep dive on the decline of the German Foreign office under Merkel, who gradually took over all important foreign issues herself, by Politico’s Germany/Austria reporter is: “Who will be Germany’s next foreign minister? Nobody cares. During her 16 years in power, German Chancellor Angela Merkel seized full control over international affairs.” BY MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG September 24, 2021. Here is the link.
The continued refusal of the recently arrived German coalition government, in the face of clear threats by Putin to again invade Ukraine, to clearly abandon this huge pipeline project is upsetting to many NATO partners and Ukraine. In particular, the new German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the Green Party, had constantly called for the immediate abandonment of this project while her party was in the opposition during the Angela-Merkel-led coalition government. However, in government, she has merely repeated the well-known fact that this pipeline must meet EU law requirements, and so far this is not possible. Moreover, even more disappointing to many NATO allies, the new government, led by the Social Democrat Olaf Scholtz, has also blocked NATO from sending various “offensive” weapons to Ukraine to defend itself.
This audio file is an eight-minute DW-edited version of a much longer interview we taped, so of course these are not my complete statements on these issues. Hopefully these brief answers do shed light on the perceived national interests of German leaders across what are now three separate governments and 18+ years of partnering with Moscow on these huge Ukraine-detour pipelines: Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2.
Here is my talk [English & Ukrainian videos] for the Ukraine Energy Security Dialogue of 01.12.21, via Zoom, organized by Kyiv’s Dixie Group. Program & Speakers are below.
I outlined failures of the legal and political models Russia’s Gazprom has embraced to eventually bring the Nord Stream 2 pipeline into operation under the anti-monopoly provisions of the EU’s Third Energy Package law..
Critical observers have understandably interpreted the public optimism and “gas-Godfather”-like posturing of Kremlin and Gazprom officials as evidence of self-confidence, even arrogance. In contrast, here I outlined what actually amounts to a history of repeated failures of Nord Stream 2 AG strategies.
I termed its first two failed strategies as “Plan A” and “Plan B,” and the current one as “Plan C.”
Here’s my extended interview in Kyiv with two great Kosatka.Media journalists [Read in UA, RU]
18 NOVEMBER 2021 — AUTHOR YAROSLAV MARKIN, TETIANA HUZENKO In 2021, the energy sector of Ukraine faced myriad threats related to the completion of Nord Stream 2, increasing gas prices and coal shortage just before the heating season. At the same time, green trends require decarbonizing the industry and developing the hydrogen direction.
Kosatka.Media discussed what direction is better for Ukraine, whether it should wait for the protection against Nord Stream 2, and where global green trends could take us, with Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell, international expert and senior energy and geopolitics analyst at GlobalBarrel.com, who participated in the Ukraine Gas Investment Congress held in late October in Kyiv.
One of the key messages at the congress is that whatever the ‘green’ trends are, gas is a transition fuel and we will use it for a long time. Are there any other case scenarios? How should Ukraine act in this situation?
In the long run, we want to have a world that’s not dependent on hydrocarbons. The worst hydrocarbon is lignite and brown coal. And that’s what people s\should concentrate on eliminating. Natural gas in fact is a great way to eliminate coal.
It’s actually an improvement for Ukraine, not only because of global warming, because of CO2, but also for the health of the people since natural gas does not produce environmental pollution. So, increasing the use of natural gas (or also nuclear energy) in a country like Ukraine is to the benefit of the environment and to the people’s health.
However, Ukraine is not a typical European country, it is a country that unfortunately is at war. In such a situation, it has found an intelligent way to access natural gas, which is virtual reverse flow.
This AP article today quotes me (about half way in, marked in red) on Nord Stream 2, on Putin acting like the EU’s “gas godfather,” and on the implications for the EU gas crisis. It’s in numerous USA local papers. A nice job by AP’s DAVID McHUGH (Frankfurt) and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV (Moscow).
FRANKFURT, Germany — Europe is short of natural gas — dangerously short. A cold winter could mean a severe crunch, and utility bills are headed higher, burdening ordinary people and weighing on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to help fill European gas storages as energy prices soar — but supply shortages and political tensions have continued to rattle energy markets, keeping prices high. That’s pinched businesses and forced them to pass along costs to customers already facing higher bills at home.
With Europe dependent on imported gas and Russia supplying 40% or more of those imports, Putin has leverage. He’s said the new pipeline already is filled with gas and could help increase supplies “the day after” it’s approved.
Here are important factors behind the gas crisis:
HOW DID EUROPE GET INTO THIS MESS?
Multiple reasons. One was a cold winter that drained gas reserves, which are used to generate electrical power and typically replenished in summer. That didn’t happen this year.
Hot weather drained more gas than usual through demand for air conditioning. Less wind meant less renewable electricity, leading generators to reach for gas fuel. Limited supplies of liquid natural gas, an expensive option that can be delivered by ship instead of pipeline, were snapped up by customers in Asia.
On top of that, Europe for years has pushed for day-to-day spot pricing, instead of long-term contracts. Russian-controlled gas giant Gazprom has fulfilled those long-term contracts but hasn’t pumped additional gas beyond that. Putin says customers who have those contracts pay much less for gas than other buyers.
Prices were seven times higher in October than they were at the beginning of the year and have eased to about four times higher lately.
I moderated this very lively & frank panel at the Ukraine Gas Investment Congress (UGIC) in Kyiv on 22 October 2021. [The high-level event participants are listed below].
I thoroughly enjoyed this lively debate, and learned a good deal. It’s an hour long; but I think it is well worth a watch, especially as the debate gets going.
* Torsten Wöllert, Minister Counsellor; Energy, EU Delegation to Ukraine
* Olga Bielkova , Director on Government & International Affairs Gas Transmission System Operator (GTSOU)
* Oleksiy Ryabchyn (Rye ab chen), Advisor to the Chairman of the Board, Naftogaz of Ukraine
* Sergiy Nahorniak, (Nach hor niak) MP and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Verkhovna (Ver kavna) Rada Committee on Energy and Housing and Communal Services
* Steve Freeman, Head of Energy Transition, Digital and Integration Schlumberger
* Dr. James Watson , Secretary General, Eurogas
* Moderator: Dr. Thomas O’Donnell, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin; and Energy and International Affairs Analyst
It was a respectful but clearly exasperating confrontation, a between contradictory imperatives pitting:
a) Ukraine’s necessity to boost its domestic natural gas production in the interests of its national security and independence, and the people’s social-economic needs,
b) The demands from Brussels and especially from highly developed Western-EU Member States insisting that Ukraine abandon all fossil fuels (including gas) ASAP,
Green-Deal-inspired insistence by Brussels for rapid gas-abandonment imposes the difficulty or outright banning of financing for increasing Ukraine’s domestic gas production. Many EU-zone financial institutions cannot any longer finance “upstream” projects (E&P: exploration and production), including the World Bank, whose representative pointed out earlier at the Congress that his institution is now outright banned from making such investments.
Nevertheless, no one on my panel, or throughout the Congress disagreed that, for the foreseeable future, investments in new upstream natural gas exploration and production are precisely what Ukraine urgently needs. The constant threats from Moscow, of Putin, his energy ministry and Gazprom to end transit of Russian gas to the EU via Ukraine would make the present “virtual reverse flow: method by which Ukraine obtains much of its natural gas, so vital for electricity generation but especially for citizens winter heating, will become impossible.
This is whey how to raise financing for domestic new gas E&P was precisely the urgent topic of this Congress organized by Naftogaz, the state natural gas company.
The interview was on Monday with no evidence of Gazprom filling EU storage on the date promised. Today, Wednesday, Gazprom has begun filling at least two of five promised EU storage sites.
To the best of my knowledge, from various sources who follow the industry and/or politics of this closely:
Gazprom began using its recently unused Yamal pipeline, flowing 30mcm/day (million cubic meters per day) to the Mallnow, Germany pumping station. This Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany. pipeline, has a total capacity of 85 mcm/day (31 bcm/year – billion cubic meters per year).
Gazprom also applied to use its previously booked-and-paid-for but also recently unused capacity across Ukraine under the December 2019 transit contract with Naftogaz of 40 bcm/year (109.3 mcm/day). Of this, :Velke Kapusany, Slovakia station is receiving 92mcm/day, with SE Poland and Moldova receiving 18 mcm/day.
Gazprom is flowing via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline (directly from Russia into Germany via the Baltic Sea) 165mcm/day. This would be 60 bcm/year if continuous with no annual maintenance downtime, but its annual nameplate capacity is 55 bcm).
This is well below the total flow Gazprom was routinely sending in recent years via Yamal (31 bcm) plus via Ukrainian pipes (89.6 bcm in 2019, and 55.8+ bcm in 2020)
Thus, these are not yet “surge” supplies; it is not yet a concerted effort to urgently replenish the EU’s worryingly low gas storage levels before winter gets colder and in the likely event winter winds will drop significantly as they did last year, requiring still-more gas, for electrical generation. (This combination ran the then-nearly full EU and Ukrainian storages to very low levels, which have still not been replenished sufficiently for this winter.).
Such drama and uncertainty from Europe’s main energy supplier when it needs reliability and transparency is heghly problematic (though, of course, Europe and especially Berlin have been amply warned about this high degree of dependence on Gazprom)..
Oh, and note that the USA is evidently quite concerned about the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border. However, the EU seems at a complete loss, absolutely absent from joining with the Biden Administration in dissuading Mr. Putin from some new aggression.
My interview with Euronews of 08.11.21, on Gazprom & Putin’s refusal to begin filling gas storage in the EU. This is the only way to diminish the possibility of a gas crisis, of serious heating and electricity shortages should we have another cold and windless winter.
Putin, as always, is “the decider.”
I said: No one knows his game. Will he send his ample gas supplies to Europe, now that Russian storage is filled as of 7 Nov.?
This is a serious issue of the reliability and transparency of Gazprom and Putin’s Russia – the supplier of about 40% of Europe’s imported gas,
The person who invaded Ukraine in 2014 now refuses to send gas across Ukraine. He now has the gas available it and Ukraine is even offering him a 50% discount on transit fees. This could significantly help to alleviate Europe’s looming winter energy crisis.
However, instead, Putin has now put large numbers of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, de facto threatening the country in recent weeks. The Biden administration is alarmed. It sent CIA director Burns to speak directly to Putin in Moscow – a very unusual event. See CNN here.
This is a serious energy and security situation for Europe and for Ukraine. Shortfalls of winter gas in storage, and also coal in Ukrainian storage is a threat to citizens’ heat and electricity supplies.
Putin’s recent gas-Godfather-like statements that Nord Stream 2 could alleviate the current European natural gas price and supply crisis is an obvious attempt to pressure the EU to rush Nord Stream 2 approval in ways violating the EU’s own rule of law.
As a Polish expert wrote in 2019,: “The amendment to the [European Union’s] gas directive explicitly confirms that EU law applies in the case of Nord Stream 2 (that is, to the section running through German territorial sea), including the rules on unbundling, third-party access, independent operators et al.: (Agata Łoskot-Strachota, “The gas directive revision: EU law poses problems for Nord Stream 2,” OSW, Warsaw, 21.02.2-19.).
However, Putin’s hubris should be taken with a grain of salt. In reality, his options in this regard are subject to current technical-economic constraints of the Russia gas sector, as my research had indicated in recent weeks.
Russian domestic storage was announced to be at 97% full mid-last-week due to its continuing all-out Gazprom filling campaign, reportedly at the high rate of about 300 million cubic meters/day (mcm/d). The plan had been to finish by 1 November.. Thereafter, this maxed-out production has to immediately be choked off or be sent somewhere else – and indeed there is only one option; but it is not Nord Stream 2…
One caveat: a recently announced 7 November Gazprom export start date did not made sense. Where would the maxed out production flows go from 1 to 7 November? However, an article yesterday by Bloomburg [possible paywall] clarifies “Gazprom said Wednesday that the Russian re-injection campaign would be a week longer than the original Nov. 1 conclusion.” This is quite plausible – it is simply taking an extra six days to top off Russian domestic storage.
So to reiterate points I have stressed over the past few weeks (e.g., at Naftogaz’ Ukraine Gas investment Congress closing panel in Kyiv last Thursday-I’ll put a video of this here soon- and in various interviews):
First, while Putin has relished playing the gas-mafia Godfather (e.g., at the St Petersburg gas conference two weeks ago), asserting that, if Nord Stream 2 is rapidly approved, Gazprom exports could save Europe this winter, he has been merely posturing as the strongman decider. He wanted to appear to be craftily withholding extra, non-contracted gas supplies needed to fill the company’s storage facilities in Germany and throughout the EU, all still now at worryingly low levels long after the traditional filling season ended at the start of October.
“Cooperation in energy transformation and trade to increase the economic strength of the Three Seas Region …”
Kongres590 – Warsaw – 14 October 2021
Moderator: prof. dr. hab. Zbigniew Krysiak, Chairman of the Program Council of the Institute of Schuman Thought Panellists:
Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell, (PhD Nuclear Physics; Lecturer in Berlin & Energy & Geopolitical Analyst),
Julius Zellah, (President of the Light for Africa Online Foundation)
Paweł Kotowski, (Deputy Director of the Department of Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Jarosław Malczewski, (President of the Polish Dairy Group),
Dr. Krzysztof Malczewski, (President of the B-2M Company)
Key points of my talk:
1. Poland has no previous experience in nuclear energy; and this is a difficult problem that needs to be tackled starting now. Also, any institute needs a sufficient scale to guarantee both high standards and employment security to those trained for industry, academia, safety, and planning. It is for this reason that nuclear training in Poland’ should be done jointly, together with all 12 of the Three Seas Initiative members (i.e., the eastern EU member states, and this may soon include also Ukraine – many of which countries already have established nuclear programs). And, as part of the Three Seas Initiative, this means also in conjunction with the USA, in particular its Department of Energy with a vast network of nationl laboratories and obviously decades of nuclear experience to draw on. Continue reading →
On Friday, 8 October, I was interviewed, with Aura Sabadus (@ASabadus) of ICIS-London, about Nord Stream 2’s impact on European energy politics on”Strait Talk” with TRT host Ayse Suberker. We discussed the geopolitical aims of Russian and German leaders for partnering on this pipeline.
I stressed, the issue is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas – it is and it will remain so for the foreseeable future for up to 40% of its imports. The issue is what route this gas takes to arrive from Russia into Europe.
Consider: Russia historically exported 80% of the gas it sends to Europe using massive Soviet-era pipelines transiting Ukraine, the remainder via a Belarus-Poland-Germany pipeline. However, for 20 years Continue reading →
EU leaders will discuss the idea of creating a strategic EU gas reserve and decoupling electricity prices from gas prices, said the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
– When it comes to gas, we are dependent on imports – 90 percent. gas is imported. The economies in the world are growing, so is the demand. But the supply is not correspondingly greater. We are very grateful that Norway is increasing production, but it seems that this is not the case in Russia, noted the head of the European Commission, visiting Estonia. In her opinion, the solution to the problem are investments in renewable energy sources, which should make the Community independent of imports and stabilize prices.
– In the short term, we will talk at the European Council, not only this evening (Tuesday), but in two weeks’ time at the formal Council of Europe, how to deal with storage, the strategic reserve and we will look at the overall price structure on the electricity market. Electricity prices are high due to high gas prices and we have to consider the possibility of (them) decoupling because we have much cheaper energy from renewable sources, said von der Leyen
On Tuesday evening, an informal meeting of European leaders will take place in Slovenia ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit scheduled for Wednesday.
According to unofficial diplomatic sources in Brussels, Poland wants the European Commission to conduct investigations into the manipulation of the natural gas market by the Russian company Gazprom, which are causing the increase in gas prices in the EU. This issue is expected to appear at the EU summit on October 21-22.
Back in April, American energy market analyst Thomas O’Donnell predicted that Russia would use gas supplies to build strategic domination. The EU’s response should be to create a kind of gas ‘central bank’ in Ukrainian warehouses and use this country as a buffer, he proposed.
Ukraine is a key element of the strategic gas reserve
– Shortly after the beginning of the Maidan revolution and the Russian aggression, Ukraine, with the support of the EU, quickly made technical modifications to the export pipelines to Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania in such a way as to enable a reverse. This quickly freed Kiev from having no alternative to buying Russian gas, said the expert.
– Moreover, the Kremlin cannot so easily promote favorable oligarchs – he envisaged adding that the implementation of this idea was only a matter of legislation.
– The EU could designate warehouses in Ukraine, Germany and France as the so-called strategic reserves that must always hold a certain minimum amount of gas. In the event of any aggression by Russia against Ukraine or other countries, these warehouses would be launched by a special EU-US committee or within the OECD, and Russian pipelines would be cut, the analyst suggested.
– Gas belonging to Gazprom, which stores huge amounts of gas in Germany and other EU countries, should in this case be nationalized – the expert believes.
Responding to the objection that such ideas sounded a bit fantastic, he explained that this is almost exactly how the international oil security system has operated for 50 years: in the event of a crisis, 90-day strategic oil reserves are deployed in each member state of the International Energy Agency.
I was quite happy with the answer of IEA (International Energy Agency*) director, Dr. Fadi Birol, to two critical questions I posed, first on how the European Commission should include nuclear power in its “green financing taxonomy,” and secondly, against German over-reliance on variable renewables (I termed this “renewable fundamentalism”) which I said produces high “organizational entropy,” that is, unworkable and unaffordable, completely “reinvented” so-called “smart grids” with “grid scale stage” whose technology is not sufficiently developed all to cope with the problem of unavoidable wind and solar energy fluctuations, which become more massive as the percentage of installed renewables increases. This is a significant contribution to Germany’s (and the EU’s) present crises of energy supply and price security. (The video above is set to start at my two questions.)