The world’s leader in nuclear energy is struggling to keep its fleet of reactors going, sending a worrying signal to the rest of the world about the health of an energy source that has a vital role to play in any green energy mix. The New York Times reports:
[I]n the last few years, the French [nuclear power industry] has started to stall. New plants that were meant to showcase the industry’s most advanced technology are years behind schedule and billions of euros over budget. Worse, recently discovered problems at one site have raised new doubts about when, or even if, they will be completed. […]
Alarmed by the French industry’s problems, the Socialist government of President François Hollande is expected soon to announce an industry overhaul. As the majority owner of the country’s two main nuclear companies — the reactor maker Areva and the big utility operator Électricité de France — the government will aim not only to put the companies on a firmer financial footing but to reorganize them in hopes of restoring the French industry’s role-model luster.
France sources more than three quarters of its electricity from nuclear plants, a staggeringly high percentage when compared to the rest of the world, but its reactors are aging. As these facilities reach the end of their shelf lives, the French government is being forced to reevaluate nuclear’s role in the national power mix. There are a number of encouraging new nuclear technologies being developed that can provide safe, zero-emissions baseload power on a large scale, but the development of these plants, as the NYT reports, is behind schedule and over budget.
The French energy and environment minister has touted a plan to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear energy from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025, hoping to replace much of that drawdown with renewables. But Paris needs only look to the east to Germany to see how expensive such a substitution can be, and how it can perversely lead to increased fossil fuel consumption.