France, a strong advocate for nuclear energy in Europe, could close up to 17 reactors over the next eight years. Monday, during a radio interview, Ecology Minister and known environmentalist Nicolas Hulot said the move aims to reduce French reliance on nuclear power. Currently, at 75 percent, the country is planning to reduce nuclear power generation to 50 percent, in accordance with the Act adopted in 2016, during the Hollande administration, and confirmed by current President Emmanuel Macron. The plan does not question the significant role that nuclear power stations, controlled by Électricité de France (EDF), will continue to play in the country, Diario El Pais reported.
While countries like Germany are already planning to close all its reactors, France will maintain nuclear power as the pillar of its geopolitical and energy independence. After the UK’s exit from the European Union, France will be the last member in possession of a nuclear bomb. It is the also the country with higher nuclear energy production per capita. Both – the nuclear bomb and reactors – are important pillars in the modern France.
The nation’s first nuclear power station was built in 1963, three years after the first nuclear bomb tests. In the seventies, after the oil crash, Paris accelerated this proposal for a clean energy source that did not produce GHG, but which had an enormous destructive potential in case of an accident and could continue to produce dangerous residues for thousands of years.
The current government’s ties to the nuclear sector are noteworthy: Prime Minister Édouard Philippe worked as head of public affairs at Areva between 2007 and 2010. During the April-May presidential campaign, environmental groups criticized Macron’s shyness regarding environmental issues. Hulot’s appointment, and the new president’s subsequent reaction to Donald Trump’s exit from the Paris Accord, partly helped dispel suspicions.
The most revealing element in Hulot’s statement is that for the first time a minister quantified a number of reactors that should be closed to comply with the goals set forth in the law. Nowadays there are 58 operative nuclear reactors and 19 nuclear power stations.
“It could be up to 17 reactors,” Hulot told French radio station RTL. “Every reactor comes with its own unique economic, social and even security context.”
In France, all changes require wide consensus – more so when it comes to matters that affect strategic sectors – and even more if said sectors are controlled, as is the case of nuclear, by an old monopoly in which the main shareholder is the state. According to the French Nuclear Society, the nuclear sector employs 220,000 people in the country, making it the number three employer behind aeronautics and automobile. Six of EDF’s 18 board members are in the unions.