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France Cautious About Reducing Nuclear Dependence Despite Growing Trend in EU

© REUTERS / Yoan Valat/PoolFrench President Emmanuel Macron waits for a guest on the steps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 16, 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron waits for a guest on the steps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 16, 2017. - Sputnik International
The new French administration is now hesitant about following in the footsteps of other European nations in terms of reducing the share of nuclear power in the country’s energy production after taking into consideration the potentially high cost of the move, experts told Sputnik.

PARIS (Sputnik) — During a referendum on Sunday, Switzerland voted to back the government's plan aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on nuclear energy. The initiative was taken up by the Swiss government after the tragedy at the Fukushima power plant in 2011. Fifty-eight percent of the Swiss population voted to instead invest in renewable energy, a popular practice in Europe. Austria has long abandoned its nuclear energy, Germany pledges to do so by 2022.

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But France seems like it doesn't immediately want to join in on this trend. President Emmanuel Macron’s administration, which initially stated that it would stick to the program of the previous government to reduce the share of nuclear in French power production from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025, said recently that the plan was unrealistic but could be extended for five years or more with the intent of achieving the reduction. This delay would be beneficial for the state’s major electricity provider EDF, which is currently struggling with a debt.

"Macron’s government is not strictly anti-nuclear. During his time as the minister of economy Macron was pushing forward the construction of a nuclear plant in Great Britain [Hinkley Point by EDF]. And Prime Minister Edouard Philippe worked as the Director of Public affairs in Areva [French company specializing in nuclear power]. So we can’t expect them to be favorable of energy transition," Charlotte Mijeon from Sortir de Nucleaire, a French federation of some 800 anti-nuclear groups, told Sputnik.

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EDF's stocks dropped the day after Nicolas Hulot, a prominent ecologist and an advocate for a renewable energy, became France’s new ecology minister last week. According to Mijeon, three-quarters of the French population are in favor of switching to renewable energy. However, experts think the French are unwilling to pay for the nuclear phase-out from their own pocket.

"French would like to develop the renewable energy, it is very popular nowadays, like in all the other countries. They would like to see more diversified energy sources. But at the same time they are not ready to pay bigger electricity bills," Valerie Faudon, General Delegate of the French Society for Nuclear Energy (SFEN), said.

She pointed out that French government pays of lot of attention to the potential cost of the nuclear phase-out.

"It is very expensive to shut down a NPP before the end of its life cycle. And it doesn’t affect anything, because it does not diminish the carbon dioxide emission. I think Nicolas Hulot, who is very sincere in his desire to fight the global warming, knows it. There is a five-year plan in France to reduce the carbon dioxide emission at a lowest price. The idea is to electrify public transport and develop the use of electricity, which permits both to reduce the carbon dioxide emission and to fight against pollution," Faudon explained.

According to the president’s administration, it’s hard to say at what pace the phasing-out of nuclear energy will be carried out. But, one can expect a rather "pragmatic" approach to France’s energy market from the president and his prime minister.

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