BRUSSELS - The European Union is entering the final stage of acrimonious talks on Wednesday on how to treat hydrogen produced from nuclear energy -- a row that threatens to thwart a deal on more ambitious renewable energy goals.
Negotiators from EU countries and the European Parliament are meeting to reach a deal on how fast to expand renewable energy sources this decade - a central pillar of the EU's efforts to fight climate change.
One of the key goals in the renewable energy policy is for every country in the 27-nation EU to use a certain amount of "renewable" fuels, such as hydrogen, as a energy source in industry by 2030.
Because low-carbon hydrogen requires electricity to be made in the first place, the EU battle now is what energy sources should be allowed for its production, if it is to be counted towards the renewable energy targets.
Hours before the final negotiations between EU governments and the European Parliament are to begin, EU countries are still at odds over whether to recognise hydrogen produced from nuclear power under the targets.
EU officials said they expect a long night of negotiations, with some doubtful a deal will be reached.
France, backed by at least eight other EU countries, including Poland and Hungary, is leading a push to label "low-carbon hydrogen" - produced from nuclear electricity - towards the renewable goals.
Nuclear energy does not produce planet-heating CO2 emissions and those countries say the EU should better support its contribution to meeting climate goals.
But at least nine other EU countries, including Germany, Spain and Austria, disagree. They say the EU targets should solely focus on renewable sources like wind and solar to drive the massive expansion of these energy sources needed for Europe to quit Russian gas and cut CO2.
The renewable energy law reflects a broader dispute among countries over whether EU policies should actively encourage nuclear energy with subsidies and incentives - or restrict those privileges to other green technologies like wind and solar.
EU countries' ambassadors were considering on Wednesday a compromise drafted by Sweden, which holds the EU's rotating presidency and will represent EU countries in the negotiations.
The proposal, seen by Reuters, offers countries a reduced target to use renewable hydrogen in 2030, if 30% or less of their total hydrogen use is fossil fuel-based hydrogen.
That could benefit countries where large shares of nuclear-based hydrogen have helped push fossil-based hydrogen out of the mix. EU officials said some countries in the anti-nuclear group had already indicated they would not accept the proposal.
The EU renewable energy policy contains a raft of other rules to help countries shift away from fossil fuels.
Negotiators will try to agree binding targets for how much of the EU's total energy must come from renewable sources by 2030 - with 40% and 45% among the options being considered.
Other parts of the deal may tighten the EU's rules on whether wood-burning "biomass" energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Jan Strupczewski and Sharon Singleton)