The end of nuclear? A big mistake
The accident at Fukushima did not suddenly make the reasons that so strongly support the further development of nuclear energy, both in France and globally, disappear, as if by magic. By 2050 the population of planet earth will have expanded from 6.5 billion people today to over 9 billion. Even if we (the rich countries) succeed in substantially reducing our energy consumption, much more energy will in any case have to be produced worldwide. Our main sources of energy, fossil fuels such oil, gas and coal, are rapidly disappearing. Viewed within this context, the contribution of nuclear energy, which can produce continuously massive supplies of electricity, is particularly precious.
Nuclear energy which, unlike fossil fuels, does not emit CO2, also addresses that other great problem confronting mankind today: global warming. Of the more than 30 billion tonnes of CO2 that are released into the atmosphere each year as a result of man’s energy production activities, 15 billion of them will have to be “saved.”
A properly developed nuclear sector, which replaces fossil fuels, would enable an annual saving of not just 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2, as is currently the case, but rather a total of 5.6 billion tonnes of CO2. This would not provide a total solution, but it would go a long way towards controlling the risk of climate change. To deny ourselves recourse to such a contribution would be a grave ecological error.
Of course, certain anti-nuclear organisations forcefully promote scenarios based on the claim that a combination of large-scale energy savings and the accelerated development of renewables would enable us “to dispense with nuclear.” And this, they maintain, holds true both for France and globally. These scenarios are a tool used to justify a militant cause. They are not the result of genuine scientific study. Furthermore, they are far from convincing because the amount of energy savings and the contribution from renewables that underpin the scenario are both quite unrealistic.
In our country which, unlike Germany, has no coal, oil or gas, nuclear is synonymous with security of supply. Indeed, thanks to this energy source and to the contribution of hydraulic energy, France is now capable of producing all its own electricity, quite independently of any outside market. Areva, the world’s number one producer of uranium, owns and/or exploits significant uranium mines in America, Africa and Asia. This stock of energy reserves amounts to the equivalent of 35 years of national consumption. Within what is an increasingly worrying global energy context, this controlled access to uranium resources provides France with a precious energy security insurance policy.
In addition to this independence, which protects France from instability, crises and “price hikes” that can impact upon international energy markets, nuclear energy enables us to generate electricity for long periods of time at a moderate and stable cost (this covers the handling and storage of waste and the cost of dismantling facilities, for which EDF, CEA and Areva put money aside every year). It is nuclear energy’s economic competitiveness that explains why French consumers pay 35% less for their electricity than the European average. Furthermore, the nuclear sector enables France to export each year equipment, electricity and services equivalent, on average, to €6 billion. These exports support thousands of jobs.
If France were to turn its back on nuclear, energy savings and renewables alone would be nowhere near capable of compensating for the resultant shortfall in electricity. We would, inevitably, be forced to import massive amounts of gas. Such a scenario really would be a challenge because our country would then find itself forced to depend for most of its electricity supply on an energy source that is rapidly running out. All points to the fact that gas prices will rise and supplies will become scarcer and less guaranteed. France would lose the energy independence that nuclear energy gives it and instead become dependent upon the global gas market, which is dominated by Russia, Iran and Qatar. Each year this would cost France billions of Euros and French citizens would, inevitably, have to pay much more for their electricity.
Finally, after having succeeded in building up an electricity generating sector that produces virtually no greenhouse gases, France would then have to replace this with an alternative system that would emit millions of tonnes of CO2 every year, thereby exacerbating global warming.
It’s difficult to see how France has anything to gain from turning its back on nuclear energy, but it’s very easy to see what it has to lose.