The newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron is busy assembling his cabinet these days, but it looks like he made a misstep in his choice for the country’s new energy minister. Macron tapped the nature documentary filmmaker and prominent green Nicolas Hulot for the position, and overnight shares in the French nuclear company EDF fell by 7 percent. That’s because Hulot, despite his avowed respect for the environment, is a staunch opponent of nuclear power, the zero-emissions energy source on which France relies for roughly three-quarters of its power. The FT reports:
In an interview with Liberation newspaper last month, Mr Hulot said EDF needed to move away from nuclear and towards renewable energy: “While elsewhere the energy transition accelerates, EDF gets closer to Areva, overinvests in costly nuclear projects like Hinkley Point [in the UK], and does not invest enough in renewables,” he said. In another interview he said France should have a “medium-term target” of ending the use of nuclear power.
Hulot’s opposition to nuclear comes out of an emerging trend of thinking in France—and in Europe more generally—that holds that nuclear power ought to be phased out as soon as possible and replaced by renewables. Germany, motivated by an irrational fear of the energy source following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, is leading this charge to its own detriment. Berlin hasn’t been able to replace its shuttered nuclear plants with wind and solar, but has instead been forced to increase its reliance on lignite coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels around. As a result, the country’s emissions have risen, an entirely predictable consequence of snubbing the only source (other than hydropower) of zero-emissions baseload power.
Germany’s experience hasn’t been enough to phase France’s greens, though, and Hulot’s new position of leadership suggests that Paris is preparing to follow in Berlin’s footsteps. That would be a grave error, though, especially during a time in which Europe is placing such a heavy emphasis on emissions reductions. EDF itself has pointed out that environmentalist plans to replace France’s nuclear fleet with 100 percent renewables by 2050 are “not based on technological realities.”
Hulot’s predecessor, Segolene Royal, understood the need to modernize France’s nuclear fleet and to invest in the next generation of reactors that would need to replace the country’s aging plants. Hulot seems likely to move in a different direction, but we’ve already seen where that path leads. It’s hard to fathom at this point why environmentalists are still so blind to the eco-benefits of nuclear energy.