1 January 2013
The legalities of leaving nuclear
The current political consensus favors continued reliance on civilian nuclear power in France, but a reduction in that reliance was discussed during the 2012 presidential election, and debate on that score continues. If the political consensus ever shifts toward a nuclear phase-out, the French government has several options through which it can reduce or abandon civilian nuclear power generation. The parliament can pass a law to discontinue nuclear power. The people can do the same, through referendum. Or the executive branch of government can simply not authorize the construction of new nuclear plants. If the parliament, the executive branch, or citizens acted to eliminate nuclear power, EDF, the operator of France’s 58 nuclear power plants, could seek compensation for lost revenue. The legal considerations involved in such an effort vary, depending on whether the nuclear shutdown were enacted into law or instituted through executive-branch regulation. Currently, it is unclear what chances of success a compensation claim might have. Over time, though, France will retire at least part of its aging fleet of nuclear reactors. The executive branch and parliament should pay careful attention to the structure of laws and regulations related to nuclear shutdowns, to reduce the likelihood that successful legal action will ensue.