France without nuclear?

08 November 2007

French anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire has claimed that France could phase out all its nuclear power plants within ten or even five years - although the group acknowledges that its proposed energy saving measures would involve a certain degree of personal discomfort.

The pressure group's recently published 100-page report, Nucleaire: Comment en sortir?, presents a highly detailed plan of far-reaching energy saving measures that it says could enable the country that famously relies on nuclear power plants for 78% of its electricity to close them all down. It then advocates an
 energy efficient vision of France which uses other generation options - including fossil fuels.

To start off, the report suggests, the French nuclear fuel cycle industry including France's uranium enrichment and used fuel reprocessing facilities, should be shut down. This, say the authors, would save the equivalent of 21 TWh per year. France should also stop exporting electricity and save another 61.3 TWh per year, although they acknowledge that a nuclear phase-out could see France becoming an importer of electricity to avoid using its oldest, most polluting, fossil fuel power plants.

However, little attention is paid to potential losses to the French economy - France is Europe's leading exporter of electricity and French fuel cycle facilities supply nuclear fuel and services to countries around the globe. It also neglects the results of unemployment, other than noting that nuclear industry personnel may feel "stigmatized" by a phaseout program and that their knowledge and skills would be vital in the closure and decommissioning process.

The group's vision of electricitygeneration in a nuclear-free France relies chiefly on wind power, withaims to build 11.8 GWe of terrestrial wind power and 10 GWe of maritimewind power facilities in five years, rising to 24.3 GWe and 15 GWerespectively in ten years. At present France has only 2 GWe of windpowered generation, although the report points to Germany's currentexample of a wind fleet with the capacity to generate 20 GWe.

The burden of saving energy would have to fall heavily on French businesses and the public. The report suggests measures to replace incandescent lightbulbs, refrigerators and freezers with energy-efficient models, reduce the amount of energy wasted by electrical appliances left on standby, and fixing a maximum energy ceiling for industrial processes using electricity. It also calls for an end to the use of electricity for space and water heating, the prohibition of air conditioning in private homes and the imposition of a 19 degree C limit for room heating.

This might be regarded as "a loss of comfort and quality of life" in some quarters, says the report, "but we bet that if this relative discomfort eventually allowed [France] to leave nuclear then this [would] appear much more bearable."

Further information 

Sortir du Nucleaire
: Nucleaire:comment en sortir (in French)

WNA's French Nuclear Power Program information paper