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France leads push for EU to boost nuclear-produced hydrogen

A European Union flag flutters outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -France is leading a campaign for the European Union to recognise low-carbon hydrogen produced from nuclear power in its renewable energy rules, but some member states oppose the idea for fear of undermining efforts to quickly scale up wind and solar.

Ministers from France, Poland, the Czech Republic and six other EU countries wrote to the European Commission this week urging it to open up EU renewable energy targets to include hydrogen produced from nuclear energy.

EU countries and lawmakers have been preparing for negotiations next week on the law, which will guide the pace of Europe's renewable energy expansion this decade.

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EU Parliament's lead negotiator has asked for next week's talks to be delayed because the European Commission has still not published rules to define "renewable" hydrogen more clearly, which were scheduled for late last year, EU officials said on Friday.

Scaling up emissions-free hydrogen is key to the EU's plans to cut CO2 in industries like fertilisers and steel production.

Most of the hydrogen European industries now use is produced from CO2-emitting coal and gas. Hydrogen can also be produced from electricity, so the EU wants to set sectoral targets for hydrogen made from renewable electricity.

The nine countries' letter, seen by Reuters, said the EU should include nuclear energy - which is low-carbon, but not renewable.

"We shall create equal incentives for renewable and low-carbon hydrogen. Renewable-only objectives would indeed limit the speed of the development of our hydrogen economy," said the letter, also signed by Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary.

France has historically produced about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy. The other signatory countries either already use nuclear power, or plan to build their first reactors.

At least nine EU countries oppose the idea, among them Germany, Denmark, Austria and Luxembourg, officials said.

They argue the EU targets should solely focus on renewable sources like wind and solar to incentivise the massive expansion of renewables needed to cut Europe's reliance on fossil fuels.

"It's about renewables. Nuclear is not a renewable form of energy," said one EU official, who warned against "diluting" the renewables targets.

Negotiators aim to approve the law in the next few months, but disagree on other issues - including whether the EU should commit to get 40% or 45% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Mark Heinrich and David Gregorio)