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In the face of Europe’s energy crisis, France is betting on more nuclear power

ByJerzy Nawrocki

Oct 20, 2021

President Emmanuel Macron is set to approve a group of nuclear reactors, as Europe’s energy crisis rekindles interest in the contentious power source in France. France is a nuclear power stronghold in Europe, with nuclear power reactors providing more than 70% of the country’s electricity. National pride in France’s nuclear capability waned after the devastating 2011 disaster at a reactor in Fukushima, Japan, and major cost overruns at a new facility situated in Flamanville, north-western France.

Macron declared early in his administration that he planned to shut down Fourteen reactors and cut nuclear power’s contribution to France’s energy mix from 75% to 50% by 2035. However, the tone is shifting. Macron is likely to announce the creation of six small modular reactors (SMRs), sometimes known as “mini” nuclear plants, this week. The decision also allows Macron to demonstrate his pro-nuclear credentials at a time when a few of his most likely presidential challengers are asking for increased investment.

Denis Florin, who is a partner at the Lavoisier Conseil firm, an energy-focused management consultant, said, “Nuclear is coming [back] to the heart of the energy debate in France, and much faster than I ever expected.” Nuclear power’s availability and reliability, argue proponents, have demonstrated its worth at a period when gas prices are skyrocketing and renewable energy remains erratic and expensive to store. These advantages, which have shielded French industrial businesses and consumers from more severe price increases witnessed elsewhere in Europe, have started to outweigh lingering security worries.

Around 25% of France’s electricity is being sold at a price, which is regulated of € 42 for every megawatt-hour (MWh), while the rest is subject to larger market prices, including a European pricing method that requires countries to pay for the last unit of the energy consumed, typically gas, which has irritated French consumers.

Bruno Le Maire, French Finance Minister has called for a total revamp of Europe’s electricity pricing mechanism, claiming that it unfairly denies French citizens access to the country’s nuclear power. In the emerging EU green finance taxonomy, that decides which economic activity can benefit from a “sustainable finance” label, France also seeks nuclear power to be dubbed “green.” While France and Eastern European countries want to demonstrate to investors that nuclear power is a part of the EU’s path to carbon neutrality, Germany and others have refused, citing the environmental effects of nuclear waste as a primary reason.

Most on the left of the French politics are still committed to reducing France’s nuclear power supply and see it as a cheaper alternative to large-scale investment in renewable sources such as wind and solar at a critical moment. on EU countries’ plans to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2050.

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