By Andrew Follett
Energy experts say France’s plan to phase out nuclear reactors in the coming years will undermine the country’s global warming goals and actually end up increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
French President Emmanuel Macron will continue replacing nuclear power plants with wind and solar energy as part of a plan to fight global warming. But energy experts say Macron’s plan isn’t a very sound one.
“They’re replacing low carbon energy with low carbon energy that requires back-up 65 to 85 percent of the time. Everywhere that nuclear is closed it gets replaced by natural gas. That means France will probably get dirtier,” Terry said.
French environment and energy minister Nicolas Hulot announced Monday the country would reduce the amount of nuclear energy in the country’s electricity sector from 75 to 50 percent.
France’s production of nuclear power has been steadily falling largely due to a law passed by the French government last November intended to prop up solar power. The legislation could force Electricite de France (EDF), the country’s state-controlled utility, to close 18 to 20 of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2025.
“From a climate change perspective this almost certainly won’t work out well,” Terry said. “If you look at the numbers for Europe, France is always below the rest of the continent in emissions and is already a very low carbon emitter.”
“Wind and solar operate less than half the time,” Terry said. “France is trying to get closer to meet Germany and the European Union with the wind and solar that they have. By shutting down nuclear reactors, France is making a mistake, but you can’t force people not to make mistakes. I hope the U.S. will know better.”
France’s nuclear phaseout stems from a political pact made by former French President François Hollande during the 2012 election to prop up his alliance with the anti-nuclear Green party. France’s nuclear industry is one of the most advanced in the world and is building some of the world’s most advanced reactors.
France currently operates 63,200 megawatts of nuclear capacity, according to the World Nuclear Association. To put that number in perspective, the U.S. only has 100,350 megawatts of nuclear capacity even though it has almost five times the population of France.
EDF owns most of France’s reactors, but the company has serious financial problems and many of its projects have credit ratings below investment grade. The company is more than $40 billion in debt. Shares in EDF have fallen 55 percent over the past year, reducing its market capitalization to only $23.6 billion.
Shutting down reactors is a major policy shift as reactors and fuel products and services are a major French export. The country is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity and mainly sells to Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain — it earns France about $3.38 billion annually.
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