Debate in the EU: Macron announces construction of new nuclear power plants

56 reactors are currently in operation there. Macron said in the TV address: “In order to ensure France’s energy independence, secure our country’s electricity supply and achieve our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, we will start building nuclear reactors in our country again for the first time in decades.”

A few weeks ago he announced his intention to create smaller reactors by 2030, which should also make it easier to deal with nuclear waste. At the same time, however, the development of renewable energies should also be continued. France is one of the countries that have long relied on nuclear energy and want to stick to it. France gets around 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

The cheapest option for CO2 neutrality

Unlike Austria and Germany, France continued to rely on nuclear energy even after the disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. The country’s oldest nuclear power plant in Fessenheim, Alsace, was shut down last year, and further reactor units are to be taken off the grid by 2035. However, France is currently still in second place behind the USA among the world’s largest producers of nuclear power.

According to a study by the network operator RTE, CO2-neutral electricity operation without new nuclear power plants would only be possible with enormous efforts by 2050. According to the study, building new nuclear power plants is also the cheapest solution for France to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. “Building new nuclear reactors makes sense from an economic perspective,” says the study published at the end of October.

Big problems last

Excessive costs and technical problems have recently hampered the expansion of nuclear power by the state energy company EDF. An operating license was recently issued for a controversial nuclear reactor in Flamanville on the English Channel, construction of which began in 2007. Commissioning was last postponed to the end of 2022 – also because leaky welds were discovered in the steel shell. Instead of the originally estimated 3.3 billion, the costs are now probably more than twelve billion euros.

Advertising at EU summit

The French government had already hinted at the new nuclear power plans in the past few weeks – and lobbied in the EU to have nuclear power recognized by the EU as low-emission and therefore “green” energy. At the EU summit in October, Macron again promoted nuclear power in view of the high energy prices. “Today we are too dependent on the import of certain energy sources, the prices of which are determined by fluctuations in the market,” he said.

“A diversification of resources is necessary, and nuclear energy must definitely be part of the energy mix,” stressed the President. Without nuclear power, France argues, the EU cannot become climate neutral by 2050 as planned. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has so far been considered the greatest opponent of the nuclear plans: “It is no surprise that France looks at nuclear energy differently than I do,” she said at the summit.

Majority in EU for nuclear power?

According to diplomats, at the summit there was for the first time a clear majority in favor of Macron’s move, which for him would be an important point win before the start of the French EU Council Presidency in January and the presidential election in France in April. The EU Commission could present its proposal for the taxonomy as early as November.

This is a legal text by the EU Commission that investors around the world are eagerly awaiting. If the Brussels authority classifies nuclear energy as “sustainable”, it amounts to recommending the financial markets to invest in nuclear facilities.

Warning from NGOS and Greens

Environmental organizations had warned the Commission against classifying nuclear power and natural gas as environmentally friendly energies. Such a move would contradict the measures needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees, said Sebastien Godinot of WWF. The inclusion of nuclear power and natural gas in the EU taxonomy would be “grossly irresponsible,” said Greenpeace activist Silvia Pastorelli.

The Greens in the European Parliament have also warned the EU Commission against classifying nuclear power as “green” energy in future climate policy. “That would be the worst case scenario for Europe’s energy transition,” said the Green MEP Sven Giegold. The consequences would quickly be felt in the field of finance: “The result would be a devaluation of all new financial products that should advance the Green Deal in Europe.” Instead, more public and private money will be directed towards new nuclear power plants.

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