Nuclear Shutdowns Cast Doubt for France

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June 15, 2017
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As discussions continue about the recent announcement by President Donald Trump that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, a piece of related news from France is worth considering. In recent years, France has shut down a number of its nuclear reactors, casting doubt on whether the nation will be able to achieve its climate goals.

Currently, nuclear power provides around 75% of France’s electricity, compared to around 20% here in the United States. However, French nuclear power production has fallen in recent years, largely because of laws in place to encourage the use of solar power. These laws could end up causing the country’s state-controlled utility, Electricite de France (EDF), to shutter 18 to 20 of its 58 reactors by 2025.

“From a climate change perspective this almost certainly won’t work out well,” Dr. Jeff Terry, a professor of nuclear physics involved in energy research at the Illinois Institute of Technology, explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation recently. “If you look at the numbers for Europe, France is always below the rest of the continent in emissions and is already a very low carbon emitter.”

In an attempt to replace the lost capacity from nuclear power, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to double down on renewables such as wind and solar.

“This doesn’t hold any water,” Dr. Terry says. “They’re replacing low carbon energy with low carbon energy that requires back-up 65 to 85 percent of the time. Everywhere that nuclear is closed it gets replaced by natural gas. That means France will probably get dirtier.”

“Wind and solar operate less than half the time,” Terry continues. “France is trying to get closer to meet Germany and the European Union with the wind and solar that they have. By shutting down nuclear reactors, France is making a mistake, but you can’t force people not to make mistakes. I hope the U.S. will know better.”

Closing down nuclear plants is also likely to result in major financial issues for France, due to the nation’s role as a major exporter of reactors and fuel products. Low generation costs have made France the world’s largest net exporter of electricity. The nation mostly sells to Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain, which earns France around $3.8 billion each year.

Keeping nuclear plants running is a smart strategy for meeting climate goals, both in France and in the United States. Let’s hope American lawmakers are following this news and understand the importance of preserving our nation’s nuclear power fleet.