Nuclear power gets a boost: France plans to build up to 14 new reactors


By Joseph Ataman, CNN Business

President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that France would build six nuclear reactors and study the possibility of commissioning eight more.

“Given the electricity needs, the need to also anticipate the transition and the end of the existing fleet, which cannot be extended indefinitely, today we are going to launch a program of new nuclear reactors,” Macron said.

Construction will begin in 2028 and the first new reactor could be commissioned by 2035.

The nuclear deepening marks a reversal of policy for Macron, who promised four years ago to close 12 nuclear reactors as part of a move away from the energy source. France was forced to turn to coal this winter to meet its energy needs after the shutdown of more than a fifth of the country’s nuclear reactors.

France was not the only country in Europe to struggle this winter as wholesale gas prices hit record highs, pushing up household heating bills across the continent. Struggling consumers in France have received government payments and subsidies to help defray the costs.

Barbara Pompili, France’s energy transition minister, said the change in nuclear policy was needed because of an “acceleration” of the “unprecedented” energy situation.

“To have more electricity, we need to produce more,” CNN affiliate Pompili told BFMTV.

“Even though we are developing our renewable energy a lot, we have a nuclear sector which constitutes 70% of our electricity supply, we must use this sector to the maximum,” Pompili added.

Climate concerns

Nuclear energy is a low-carbon energy source. But nuclear power plants are notoriously expensive to build, and construction tends to go over budget and over time. How to safely store the radioactive waste it produces is another puzzle.

Despite these limitations, some analysts say technology has an important role to play in tackling climate change.

The International Energy Agency says nuclear power generation is expected to more than double between 2020 and 2050 in pursuit of net zero. Its share in the electricity mix will decline, but that’s because the demand for electricity will increase as the world electrifies as many machines as possible, including cars and other vehicles.

The European Commission came under fire earlier this month when it unveiled a proposal to designate natural gas and nuclear power as “sustainable” energy sources.

Including energy sources on the EU green list could unlock a wave of private investment in new nuclear and gas projects. But the plans have angered climate activists and could still be blocked by European lawmakers, who are also deeply divided on the issue along national and political lines.

The European Union aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to become a net zero emissions economy by 2050. Net zero is where emissions are significantly reduced and those that remain are compensated, whether using natural methods. such as planting trees or technology to “capture” emissions.

— Julia Horowitz, Ivana Kottasová and Angela Dewan contributed reporting.

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