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Saturday, February 12, 2022
ANBOUND's Observation: Why France is Reviving Its Nuclear Energy Plan
Chan Kung

French Minister of the Economy, Finance and the Recovery Bruno Le Maire told CNBC on Friday that the country's decision to make a major bet on nuclear power was motivated by geopolitical concerns and a desire to achieve "total energy independence".

His comments came shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to build at least six new nuclear reactors over the next few decades, with an option to build eight more. The move controversially puts atomic energy at the heart of France's bid to become carbon neutral by middle of this century.

In an interview with CNBC's Charlotte Reed on Friday, Le Maire called the move "the most ambitious plan in France over the last decades".

He said scientific analysis seen by the government last year indicates the need to build new nuclear power plants and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy so as to reduce carbon emissions and achieve "total energy independence".

Changes in Policy

The French government's establishment of its atomic energy program marks a clear policy shift from the start of Macron's presidency, when he pledged to reduce the share of nuclear power in the country's energy mix.

Asked if geopolitical concerns contributed to the reversal, Le Maire told CNBC, "Of course, the changes in the geopolitical landscape [have] played a key role".

In addition to soaring energy prices, escalating tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the West in recent months have heightened concerns about the future of Russian gas flowing into the European Union.

Lawmakers and energy suppliers are scrambling to develop contingency plans in case Russia's gas supply to the EU is completely cut off. About 40% of the bloc's gas is received through Russian pipelines, several of which pass through Ukraine.

Climate Issue

Speaking just two months before the presidential election, Macron said on Thursday that the new nuclear power plants would be built and developed by state-controlled energy giant électricité de France (EDF) and that tens of billions of euros in public financing would be used to support the projects.

"We need to pick up the mantle of France's big nuclear adventure again," Macron said.

Before the announcement, the French government had lobbied successfully to get the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to label nuclear power "green."

The EU's decision to designate nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy source has been heavily criticized by some member states, with environmentalists saying the move "makes a mockery" the bloc's desire to position itself as a leader in sustainable finance.

Europe Ecology – The Greens presidential candidate Yannick Jadot tweeted on Thursday that Macron's move would condemn France as " energy and industry obsolescence", adding that it was "irresponsible" to push ahead with the plans "without any debate and for a cost equivalent to the budget of the public hospital".

When asked whether the French government should prioritize nuclear power, Le Maire stressed that the strategy is based on a mix of renewable energy and nuclear power plants.

He added that, "We are explaining to the French people: This is our strategy. If you want to work in the nuclear plants, if you want to be an engineer … you could do it [and] you should do it because there is a future for the nuclear plants in France and also everywhere in the world".

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