France Doubles Down on Nuclear Power

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced a new investment of 1 billion euros (US $1.4 billion) for nuclear power on Monday, bucking the European trend that has seen other countries move away from nukes in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

France gets about three-quarters of its electricity from 58 nuclear reactors, a bigger proportion than any other country in the world. President Sarkozy told reporters on Monday that "there is no alternative to nuclear energy today."

Of course, the billion-euro investment--which will be accompanied by a further 1.3 billion euros ($1.9 billion) invested in renewable energy--is little more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to expanding nuclear power. Reactor costs run into the multiple billions, and with a new increased focus on safety after Fukushima, those costs could rise even further. The European Union's existing plants are all undergoing additional safety testing after Japan's earthquake and tsunami highlighted some of the risks.

And safety testing aside, much of Europe is taking the opposite tack from France and moving away from nuclear power. Germany has plans to shutter all of its reactors by 2022, and Switzerland, which gets almost 40 percent of its power from five nuclear reactors, will shut all of them down at the end of the reactor lifespans. A recent referendum in Italy showed that 94 percent of voters were against plans to resume a nuclear power program.

In spite of the reactions around the world to Japan's nuclear crisis, France obviously sees little upside to shelving its own nuclear power infrastructure. According to Sarkozy, putting a hold on nuclear power after Fukushima "makes no sense."

(Image via Toucanradio/Flickr)

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