We've been talking recently about nuclear power and recent U.S. government plans to fund new power plant construction. France, which gets 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, is often cited as a model by nuclear power advocates. But is it?
In the early 1970s, when the French government decided to switch the country's electricity production from coal to nuclear generation, massive investments in a nuclear fleet were made by the state-owned national utility, Electricité de France (EDF), and were secured by a sovereign guarantee issued by the French government. The sovereign guarantees were suspended in 1995, but little plant construction has taken place since then because France had more nuclear power than it needed (and was actually selling some to places like Italy).
On Friday, EDF announced
plans to build a new nuclear plant, France's 60th.
The new plant will be financed by EDF, but EDF is still largely state-owned. The contractor, Areva, is also largely state-owned.
The location of the plant still hasn't been decided and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the "first stone should be placed in 2011."
This is interesting news, but it is nowhere near enough to change the energy profile of the world's industrialized nations, especially as some plants grow old and face potential closure. Nuclear supporters would probably celebrate if U.S. subsidies were enlarged enough to catalyze the construction of half a dozen U.S. plants over the next dozen years, but that won't fundamentally alter America's energy balance.
Energy Department officials acknowledge that even though President Bush fervently wanted to get a nuclear plant started before leaving office, it isn't likely to happen. The process of soliciting proposals for loan guarantees which started last week will take some time.