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Hungary calls to accept nuclear energy as a source of clean hydrogen

As the hydrogen economy is getting higher visibility and stronger political support on an EU regulatory and national level, Central and Eastern European states do not want to miss out from the initial phase of building up European hydrogen capabilities.

A day after the European Commission adopted its long-awaited hydrogen strategy, Poland also announced to take some important steps regarding its own hydrogen agenda, by signing a letter of intent with the major energy and transport companies on the Polish market. Now Hungary also voiced its opinion on the holy grail of the energy industry.

“Hungary believes that hydrogen is indispensable to achieve climate neutrality by 2050,” stressed Péter Kaderják, Hungarian Minister of State for Energy and Climate Policy during the meeting of EU ministers responsible for research and innovation.

While the importance of green hydrogen in sectoral decarbonisation is unquestionable, Hungary calls to acknowledge the potential in hydrogen produced from nuclear energy.

“Hydrogen produced from nuclear will play a key role in the Hungarian energy system and the entire Hungarian economy in the long run,” said Mr Kaderják. “Therefore, we believe that hydrogen produced by nuclear energy should also be recognised as clean hydrogen.”

The Hungarian government decided to pins its hopes on nuclear energy (complemented with increased solar capacity) to achieve its emission reduction targets and increase the rate of carbon-free electricity production from the current 60 per cent to 90 per cent by 2030. Now the country aims to look into how its low-carbon electricity from nuclear can be used for the production of clean hydrogen.

According to the European Commission’s strategy, “the priority is to develop renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy.” However, it added that in the short and medium-term other forms of low-carbon hydrogen are needed to rapidly reduce emissions and support the development of a viable market.

By 2050 Europe has to transform its energy system, which accounts for 75 per cent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and the deployment of hydrogen solutions could pave the way towards this objective. According to Foratom Director-General Yves Desbazeille, transforming our energy system is going to require all low-carbon solutions currently available, including nuclear and policymakers shouldn’t focus only on variable renewables. Therefore he also urged the EU to acknowledge the important role that the nuclear energy sector will play alongside renewables.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also took note that in recent years non-electric applications of nuclear energy has been widened to include other more promising applications such as nuclear hydrogen production, adding that the selection of hydrogen technologies (to be coupled to nuclear power reactors) greatly depends on the type of the nuclear power plant itself.

Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant provides for one-third of domestic electricity consumption. The plants existing four reactors were granted license-extension until the 2030s. But in 2014 the government decided to double the capacity of the 2-gigawatt power plant and signed an agreement with Russian state company Rosatom to build two additional reactors of up to 1,200 MWe each.

During the meeting of EU research ministers, the Hungarian Minister of State Péter Kaderják also emphasised that scaling-up hydrogen technologies require wide-ranging international cooperation based on public-private partnerships.

“Hungary supports the development of a common agenda and innovation roadmap, which will pave the way for multilateral pilot projects to be implemented in the coming years,” he said. “We are ready for cooperation, as we do not want to simply follow, but also to actively shape the developments and cooperations in this field.”

In the meantime, Hungary has already started to lay the foundations of its hydrogen economy at home. The National Energy and Climate Plan as well as Hungary’s new National Energy Strategy takes note of the future role of hydrogen in the energy mix. The recently launched National Hydrogen Technology Platform brings together the relevant actors of research and industry and will support the drafting of a national hydrogen strategy.

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