22 June 2011 by Pelle Neroth
Opinions are mixed in the French political class. Predictably, you may say, the European Greens' (an international coalition where the French greens are included) secretary general Cecile Duffot said she expected France will phase out in "20-25 years". She added that: "By then, the efficiency of renewables will allow the transition to take place smoothly, having been helped by a concerted European research effort."
French Green Euro MP Eva Joly added that unless France phased out, "France, having missed the European renewables train, is in danger of losing the train on dismantling nuclear. Germany will be the world leader in this and will be able to sell expertise elsewhere".
Benoit Harmon, the official spokesman of the Socialist Party, the main opposition, which is set to fight a closely contested election against President Nicolas Sarkozy next year, said "Personally I am in favour of abolishing nuclear." But he qualified this by saying that his party's manifesto has not yet laid down its line on the issue. He called for the French people to "speak their mind to say what they want" during the 2012 election campaign.
However, the ruling right-of-centre UMP party insists on keeping nuclear for the moment. The party's secretary general Jean Francois Copĕ, said: "It is not necessary to converge with Germany's decision. We have had had an energy programme that was set decades ago; all governments since have gone along with this policy, and I believe it's going to be the same in the future. Even though renewables will also have to developed at the same time."
Recent polls show that the French public are two thirds in favour of a gradual phase out in the next few decades - even though very few want an immediate abolition. Opinion is much more pro nuclear than in Germany, but less pro nuclear than it was a few years ago.
So the answer to the question is: France is not shifting out yet, though things may change.
Meanwhile, another development in the world of French nuclear is that Anne Lauvergeon, the head of Areva, the 'one stop shop' nuclear giant she helped create ten years ago, announced that she was stepping down. You might say it was a setback for French women in engineering and business. She was recently voted one of the world's most powerful business persons. The story has it that her abrasive and pushy style rubbed up a lot of men in the French establishment the wrong way. Particularly that of Sarkozy himself.
Yet there may have been sound business reasons for her departure too.
Areva's newest generation PWR (Pressurised Water Reactor), being built in Finland, the most high profile current construction job in the world, has suffered delays and cost over runs. So has a French plant being built at Flamandville in Normandy. And, in 2009., Areva unexpectedly lost out in its bid for a huge power plant in Abu Dhabi.
Her successor's greatest challenge will be to keep the French nuclear show in the road. Since Germany's decision, another French neighbour, Switzerland,has proposed phasing out nuclear power. While the legislative route is a long and complex one, give the country's decentralised system of government, the national government's proposal is for a 2034 end date.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 22 June 2011 03:42 PM Energy
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