Green Dreams and Nuclear Nightmares

June 23 Main Image

Nuclear energy currently accounts for roughly 75% of France’s energy mix – a new plan recently unveiled by the French government wishes to reduce this number to 50% by 2025. 

Given the trend of my last couple posts, I should rename this blog French Energy and keep analyzing French energy politics. I promise this is the last post on France or on energy that I will write for at least the next couple days! In any event, today I am taking a look at the new ‘energy transition’ proposals released by the French government and championed by Energy and Environment Minister (and former Presidential Candidate/concubine of the current President) Ségolène Royal. Although the proposals in and of themselves are not as abhorrent as other measures this government has taken, the favorable tax credits for renewables and proposals to create massive offshore wind farms (both good ideas) are massively overshadowed by the cuts in nuclear energy.

Nuclear has long been a strategic advantage for France – in fact, the reliance on nuclear has given French consumers some of the lowest electricity prices in Europe. In addition, nuclear energy pollutes far less than conventional fossil fuels and has given France a massive economic advantage with French company Areva becoming a market leader in nuclear energy. Furthermore, an increase reliance on Nuclear means that natural gas politics from Russia impact France far less. In fact, a study by the European Commission indicated that France only relied on Russia for 14% of its gas use – less than half of Poland’s 48% and Germany’s 36%. Nuclear also limits the need for fuel imports for electricity generation; with an increased push away from fossil fuels, nuclear is an incredible asset.

Therefore actively attempting to reduce France’s use of electricity strikes me as incredibly counterproductive. What’s more, the reasoning behind the cut is dubious at best. Indeed, as a candidate in 2012, François Hollande pledged to reduce French reliance on nuclear both in response to the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and pressure from the Green Party. Les Verts, as they are known in France, consider nuclear energy to be an abhorrence because of the radioactive waste it creates. Although I respect the desire to protect the environment, and I do believe that renewables are the energy of the future, abandoning fossil fuels overnight is not just impossible, its reckless. Thus, abandoning a cleaner energy source because it is not perfectly clean is a golden example of the detachment of certain politicians with the reality.

There are many interesting measures in the new ‘energy transition’ particularly the incentives to continue developing electric vehicles and pursue green technology. However, this development does not have to come at the cost of nuclear energy. Instead of actively reducing nuclear output, why not try and increase green technology and maintain the level of nuclear energy? The sad reality is that this new effort is not interested in protecting the environment and protecting France’s energy security but rather in attracting the support of the Green Party that has weaned since Manuel Valls became Prime Minister. It is sad that this vital resource has become a political pawn. As with its disastrous and misguided fracking policy the French government has failed to appreciate the role that affordable and abundant energy can have both in domestic and foreign policy making.

For more on the statistic:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0ac6dc96-f6e4-11e3-8ed6-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz35NvFnbb1

Other relevant links:

http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/06/23/france-energy-financing-idINL6N0P427E20140623

http://www.france24.com/en/20140618-france-government-green-energy-bill-unveiled-segolene-royal-environment/

http://online.wsj.com/articles/france-to-dim-its-reliance-on-nuclear-power-1403113287

http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2014/06/18/des-dizaines-de-mesures-pour-conduire-la-transition-energetique_4440347_3244.html (French)