France defends its nuclear strategy, says it is influenced by geopolitics

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French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told CNBC on Friday that the country’s decision to bet big on nuclear power was driven by geopolitical concerns and a desire to achieve “total energy independence.”

His comments come shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to build at least six new nuclear reactors in the coming decades, with an option for eight more. The move controversially puts atomic energy at the center of France’s bid to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century.

Speaking to CNBC’s Charlotte Reed on Friday, Le Maire described the move as “the most ambitious plan for France in decades.”

He said scientific analysis seen by the government last year had shown the need to build new nuclear power plants and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions and achieve “self-sufficiency”. total energy”.

Policy change

The ramping up of its nuclear program by the French government marks a sea change in policy since 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 caused this reversal, Le Maire told CNBC: “Of course, changes in the geopolitical landscape [have] played a key role. »

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech in Belfort, eastern France, on February 10, 2022.

JEAN-FRANCOIS BADIAS | AFP | Getty Images

Along with soaring energy prices, escalating tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the West in recent months have heightened concerns about the future of Russian gas flows to the European Union.

Lawmakers and energy suppliers have rushed to prepare contingency plans in the event of a total disruption of Russian gas supplies to the EU – which receives around 40% of its gas via Russian pipelines, including several cross Ukraine.

Climate concerns

Speaking on Thursday two months before the presidential election, Macron said new nuclear power plants would be built and developed by state-controlled energy giant EDF and tens of billions of euros in public funding would be channeled to support the projects.

“We must take up the torch of France’s great nuclear adventure,” Macron said.

Prior to the announcement, the French government had lobbied for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, to label nuclear power as “green”.

The EU’s decision to designate nuclear power as a climate-friendly source of energy has been heavily criticized by some member states, with environmental activists saying the move ‘pokes fun’ at the EU’s willingness to position itself as a leader in sustainable finance.

Green presidential candidate Yannick Jadot said via Twitter on Thursday that Macron’s decision would condemn France to “energy and industrial obsolescence”, adding that it was “irresponsible” to advance plans “without any debate. and at a cost equivalent to the budget of the public hospital.

Asked about the relevance for the French government to give priority to nuclear, Le Maire stressed that the strategy was based on a mix between renewable energies and nuclear.

He added: “We explain to the French: this is our strategy. If you want to work in nuclear power plants, if you want to be an engineer… you could do it. [and] it must be done because there is a future for nuclear power in France and also everywhere in the world.”

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