Nuclear power? Yes please! Or maybe not. We’ll figure that out later
The French nuclear industry faces an existential challenge: to start building new nuclear reactors or to organize the phase-out of nuclear power. The decision will fall to the next President of the Republic.
Last March, François Bayrou, the High Commissioner for Planning, published a note on the future of the French nuclear park. It stated that
The electricity generated in France by nuclear power stations is the very precondition for us to have renewable energies,
and that given the obsolescence of the current plants, new reactors are needed: there is no other solution
than to start emitting greenhouse gases again,
said Bayrou, who is also chairman of MoDem, one of the parties supporting President Macron.
Bayrou’s words have sparked much debate, especially within the majority. The current government had set a goal of reducing nuclear power generation to 50% by 2035. And they are already late. The energy transition law adopted in 2015 during the presidency of the Socialist François Hollande envisaged reducing the share of nuclear power in electricity generation to 50% by 2025.
Emmanuel Macron pledged during his election campaign to achieve this goal, but then postponed it by ten years. The timetable proposed by his government currently envisages the closure of 14 reactors, or 20% of the nuclear park, by 2035.
But will France be able to avoid building new reactors during this transition period? No, says François Bayrou. Perhaps, says Emmanuel Macron, who is preparing for new presidential elections next year.
So for a country largely dependent on nuclear energy, the final decision on building new reactors will be postponed until 2023 and will be a central aspect of the presidential election campaign.
The left parties are opening the door to a possible nuclear phase-out. The national secretary of PCF Fabien Roussel, presidential candidate, on the other hand, defends nuclear energy and proposes a referendum if he is elected in 2022. In contrast, Marine Le Pen calls for a revival of the nuclear industry to protect energy sovereignty and independence. For its part, the center-right Les Républicains party supports a “pragmatic” ecology without renouncing nuclear energy.
After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, which led countries like Germany to define a nuclear phase-out, French confidence in nuclear fell, from 52% to 34%. Ten years later, the situation has changed. The latest polls show that 59% of respondents support nuclear power, while 41% strictly reject it.