Options open as French debate closes

19 July 2013

France's eight-month energy debate has drawn to a close. A summary of its findings will be presented in September to inform future government policy with one prime question being nuclear power's future role.

Billed as a 'national debate on energy transition', the program of consultation covered every aspect of energy and was the first such Grenelle in which nuclear policy had been put to the public for comprehensive discussion. It followed the election of President Francois Hollande in 2012 when he pledged to reduce nuclear power's share of generation and close the country's oldest nuclear power plant to gain Green support.

Philippe Martin, July 2013 (Arnaud Bouissou - MEDDE) 460x253
Philippe Martin moderating the debate yesterday (Image: Arnaud Bouissou/MEDDE)

The Ministry for Ecology Sustainable Development and Energy counted 170,000 people taking part in 1000 regional debates and 1200 submissions over the Internet. The final event was the ninth National Council meeting, chaired by the minister Philippe Martin, which drew up a concluding document yesterday. A summary of the debate will be presented at a national environmental conference in September. A draft law will follow, to be debated in parliament.

Martin said, 'The involvement was fantastic... We must acknowledge the quality of the process that allowed all view to be expressed. Concensus exists, but there are still differences and this is normal.'

The debate saw a restrained approach from France's huge state-controlled nuclear industry, dominated by Areva and EDF. For its part, the government research organisation CEA favoured the increased use of electricity to substitute for oil and gas but was bound to Hollande's line that nuclear power's share of generation should be 50%. CEA said France should maintain the same number of nuclear reactors, implying a long period for the 'transition' to take place.

On the front line of potential nuclear closures is Fessenheim, a two unit power plant on the German border that happens to be the oldest in France. EDF thickened Fessenheim 1's concrete basemat to secure regulatory permission to operate past June 2013, and must do the same for unit 2, but the plant remains under threat from Hollande who promised to order its closure before the end of his term in 2016.

Participating on behalf of itself and three other business groups, Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF), said the debate was inconclusive: 'Issues of objectives, paths and funding remain fully open after eight months of debate. It is up to the legislator to clarify, set the course and the rules whose stability is fundamental for economic actors that will implement the energy transition.'

'For this transition to be successful, it must be part of the European and international context with threefold aims,' said MEDEF, 'competitiveness, security of supply and climate change - fields in which France is known for its performance.'

France currently sources 75% of its electricity from a fleet of nuclear reactors developed after a 1970s decision to increase energy security. About 15% of electricity comes from renewables and only 10% from fossil sources, resulting in carbon dioxide emissions per kWh of 79 grams - far lower than the EU average of 429 grams.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News