1 January 2013

Nuclear power and the French energy transition: It’s the economics, stupid!

Mycle Schneider

Schneider is an independent energy and nuclear policy consultant based in Paris. He has consulted for, among others, the Belgian energy minister, the French and German environment ministries,...

France is at an energy crossroads. To meet future electricity needs, the country could extend the operating lives of nuclear power plants beyond 40 years, accepting the safety challenges and costs of such a move, or it could change its energy mix, moving away from nuclear power and toward energy-efficiency measures and other energy sources. Until recently, the French government had refused even to examine the possibility of reducing the country’s reliance on nuclear power. But a study by independent French experts suggests that staying the nuclear course would be more expensive and less environmentally beneficial than authorities make it out to be. The difficult financial situation of two state-controlled firms involved in nuclear energy, EDF and Areva SA, will seriously affect the government’s operating margins. Those financial difficulties, the aging reactor fleet, and public opinion—which is largely in favor of a nuclear phase-out—will force the government to make fundamental choices in the near future about its energy strategy.