French energy minister Segolene Royal said this week that she’d like to see her country invest in next-generation nuclear reactors, even while holding firm to a previous goal of moving France away from nuclear energy overall. France currently meets some three quarters of its energy needs through nuclear, but many of its reactors are approaching the end of their shelf life. Reuters reports:
Royal’s so-called energy transition bill, which is being reviewed by the Senate after parliament’s lower house passed a first version last year, aims to cut the share of nuclear energy in France’s electricity mix to 50 percent from 75 percent.But that does not mean France wants to exit atomic energy, as it is part of the country’s history and expertise, Royal told L’Usine Nouvelle magazine in an interview, in contrast with Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power.“EDF’s board has adopted part of its big maintenance plan with my agreement,” Royal said.“We must now also programme the construction of a new generation of reactors, which will replace old plants when these cannot be renovated anymore.”
It’s good to see Royal contrast her approach to Germany’s troubled energiewende, and to see France making a renewed (though still diminished) commitment to nuclear energy. Nuclear is one of the only sources of zero-emissions baseload power, and is going to play a starring role in any kind of green energy mix in the coming years. There are a number of encouraging signs coming from the industry, too, as researchers are finding ways to make nuclear reactors cheaper and safer while cutting down on the problem of nuclear waste. France has a strong opportunity to be a leader in nuclear given its existing investments and infrastructure. It would be a shame if this lead was thrown away in the name of feel-good headline green initiatives which by themselves cannot satisfy a country’s energy needs.