Becoming friends: The influence of climate change on European nuclear narratives

Gabor Sarlos, Dorottya Egres

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Nuclear energy has been an important part of global energy production for the last 60 years. Following the Fukushima accident in 2011, several European countries decided to phase out nuclear energy production. Safety concerns, planning and implementation delays, and increasing costs of nuclear power plants, together with the technological development and the rapidly decreasing cost of renewable energy production forecasted a fundamental restructuring of European energy production.
However, with the rapid rise of climate change to the forefront of discourse, perception regarding nuclear energy started shifting and resulted in more leniency towards nuclear energy, as well as the increase of its public acceptance. The public mood is currently influenced and represented by two different narratives. Some people consider nuclear energy essential in the fight against climate change. Others believe that nuclear energy is a wrong answer to the climate crisis. Our research looks at how European public perceives environmental modernisation through the lens of nuclear energy perception.
Environmental modernisation (EM) offers a framework to conceptualise the interrelation of economic growth, environmental protection, and energy security (Machin, 2019). Interpreting environmental modernisation as a policy discourse interprets environmental protection as an economic activity (Hajer, 1997). Baker (2007) claims that EM aspires to provide a solution to the ecological crisis through economic growth. The dominance of economic over environmental considerations driving economic development is reflected by the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ interpretations of EM.
In 2022, specific nuclear activities and conditions have been set in the EU taxonomy, a classification system of environmentally sustainable economic activities, to help accelerate the shift from fossil fuels. The EU taxonomy was created to meet the EU’s climate and energy targets for 2030, and reach the objectives of the European green deal. The European Commission prescribed two periods for feedback on the so-called Draft Act and the Roadmap in 2020, where they invited all EU organisations and individuals to share their views on the proposed taxonomy.
This research focuses on the feedback provided by company/business organizations, business associations, NGOs, environmental organizations and academic/research institutions from both periods. It analyses how commenters framed the relationship between climate change and nuclear energy. Using frame analysis combines the advantages of quantitative content analysis and qualitative discourse analysis by identifying framing devices in the text and reconstructing the reasoning of the text.
As an outcome of the research the modelling the approaches will contribute to the understanding of how the European public perceives the relation of nuclear energy and climate change, and if a ‘soft’ or a ‘hard’ approach to environmental modernisation prevails.
Baker, S., 2007. Sustainable development as commitment: declaratory politics and the seductive appeal of ecological modernisation in the European Union. Environmental Politics, 16 (2), 297–317. doi:10.1080/09644010701211874
Hajer, M.A., 1997. The politics of environmental discourse: ecological modernization and the policy process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ECREA 2022, 9th European Communication Conference, 19–22 October 2022, AARHUS, Denmark, 705
Science and Environment Communication
Machin, A. 2019. Changing the story? The discourse of ecological modernisation in the European Union, Environmental Politics, 28:2, 208–227, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2019.1549780
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022
EventECREA 9th Conference: Rethink Impact - University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 18 Oct 202222 Oct 2022


ConferenceECREA 9th Conference
Internet address


  • nuclear energy
  • ecological modernisation
  • sustainability

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