France Can’t Afford to Give Up Nuclear Energy, Utility Chief Says



The Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear power station southeast of Paris. (Photography: European Pressphoto Agency)

So you are thinking that, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, you would like to drop nuclear energy? Fine. But you had better be prepared to pay the price.

That was the message from Henri Proglio, chief executive of Électricité de France, in an interview published on Wednesday in Le Parisien newspaper.

Mr. Proglio told the paper it was his “conviction” that France, which gets more than three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear energy, would need to invest somewhere in the vicinity of $544 billion to build new fossil fuel power plants to replace lost generating capacity if it shut down its reactors.

That, he said, would have to be financed by a doubling of the price of electricity and would bring a 50 percent increase in France’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Proglio said that 400,000 jobs, direct and indirect, in the nuclear industry would be threatened as well as another 100,000 future jobs dependent on nuclear exports. Another 500,000 jobs in energy-intensive sectors like aluminum production could be outsourced to other countries as a result of higher energy costs, he predicted.

“In total, about one million jobs would be endangered,” he told Le Parisien, “and that would cost 0.5 percent to 1 percent of gross domestic product. None of this is unimaginable. Technically, it’s feasible, and we could choose to do so. But that’s what it would entail.”

France’s gross domestic product was about $2.6 trillion in 2010, according to World Bank data. So if Mr. Proglio’s estimates are accurate the jobs lost would be valued at $13 billion to $26 billion.

Électricité de France operates 58 reactors in France, but the French have become increasingly ambivalent about nuclear power since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. And Germany has decided that it will shut down all of its reactors by 2022.

François Hollande, the Socialist contender for the 2012 presidential elections, has suggested reducing the country’s dependence on nuclear power by 50 percent by 2025. President Nicolas Sarkozy has meanwhile insisted that France is committed to nuclear power, so perhaps Mr. Proglio, a longtime ally, was just using the platform provided to him to tweak the French left.

The Socialists are reliant on the public-sector unions for electoral support, and E.D.F., majority-owned by the state, employs more than 100,000 people in France. That has complicated the Socialists’ relations with the Greens, who have called for an end to nuclear power.

There is an additional problem. As Tara Patel of Bloomberg News noted on Monday, electricity demand is rising. If trends hold, France will need as much as 625 terawatt-hours by 2030, up from 488 terawatt-hours last year. That extra production has to come from somewhere.

Mr. Proglio boasted that France was perhaps the only European country to have assured its energy independence, mainly because of its nuclear plants.

The French pay, on average, about 30 percent less for their electricity than their neighbors do, he said, “thanks to our nuclear establishment and hydropower.”

Asked about the growing number of European countries, including Austria, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, that are giving up on nuclear power, Mr. Proglio said it was difficult to generalize about the movement because the reasons varied from country to country.

He emphasized that a number of countries, including Britain, the United States and China, have said that nuclear power will continue to play an important role in their energy mix.

Author: David Jolly
Source: The New York Times
Original: http://bit.ly/uhl8sU


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