French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirms that France will proceed with a controversial construction project for a 60th nuclear reactor in Penly, northern France. Sarkozy made the announcement at a nuclear power plant in Tricastin in southern France, laying the foundation for a heated energy debate going into the 2012 presidential election.
Nearly ten days earlier, the main opposition Socialist party signed a tentative pre-election deal with the Greens to begin the gradual decommissioning of 24 of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors. The Greens, who have yet to officially endorse the agreement, will back Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande on the condition that, if elected, he cuts France’s nuclear energy output from 75% of total production to 50% by 2025.
Sarkozy criticized the Socialists for shortsightedness and naivety over the pact, saying reducing nuclear power production would be “catastrophic…and deal a fatal blow to France’s economy.”
"Nuclear is a considerable economic and strategic strength for France,” said Sarkozy. “Destroying it would have dramatic consequences. Someone will have to explain to me how we will convince India and China to buy French reactors after having shut 24 of our own reactors."
The president confirmed at the Tricastin plant that his right-leaning UMP party would stay the course with its nuclear development program, saying that shutting down over a third of France’s reactors would cost the public around €5 billion or ($6.63 billion) per year.
The nuclear debate has been high on the agenda throughout Europe and the rest of the world, following the accident at the Fukushima reactor in Japan last March.
Germany was quick to react, performing a spectacular backflip on its green energy policy by pledging it would phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022. Italy also scrapped plans to fire up its nuclear industry once again, following a 24-year moratorium sparked by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Since the 1970s, France’s nuclear industry was supported by both sides of the political spectrum because of the major energy independence boost it provided. Sarkozy recalled that France’s last Socialist president Francois Mitterrand himself approved the construction of 13 reactors during his 14-year term in top office.
Plans for France’s first third-generation Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor, or EPR, were introduced in 2009 to much criticism, with industry experts saying the country should instead invest in dynamic response systems or smart grids, which optimize energy production to respond to peak energy demands.
Despite running into funding problems and delays, Sarkozy said his UMP party would pursue construction of the EPR plant in Flamanville, northwest France, and would begin construction on the second EPR plant in the northern city of Penly in 2012.
Key Statistics – Nuclear Energy in France (source: World Nuclear Association)
- Over 75% of France’s energy comes from nuclear energy, following on from a long-standing energy security policy.
- France is the largest net exporter of energy in the world because of low production costs, with annual revenues topping €3 billion.
- Some 17% of France’s electricity comes from recycled nuclear.