Magazine article World Watch

In France, the Nuclear Honeymoon Is Over

Magazine article World Watch

In France, the Nuclear Honeymoon Is Over

Article excerpt

For years, France has been the most prominent exception to the global trend awa from reliance on nuclear power. In 1993, the country obtained 80 percent of its electricity from the atom--compared to 35 percent in Germany and 20 percent in the United States. Of the four nuclear plants still under construction in western Europe in late 1994, all were in France. Proud of their technical accomplishments and boastful of their relatively low electricity prices, French nuclear executives have responded to questions about their defiance of international trends with the phrase, "Vive la difference!"

Now, seemingly without warning, the French nuclear industry has begun to unravel. Plagued by a series of dangerous technical problems, growing controversy about what to do with mountains of nuclear waste, a disastrous $12 billion investment in a flawed breeder reactor, and the burdens of a $30 billio debt to the national treasury, Electricite de France (EdF), the national utilit company, finds its nuclear program under serious attack for the first time in nearly two decades. In April, the French Senate hosted an anti-nuclear symposiu attended by energy experts from around the world. In June, EdF decided to postpone the development of its next new reactor--originally planned for 1997--until at least 2000. And now, in the National Assembly, a formal debate has begun on the future of the country's nuclear program.

Surprisingly, the French nuclear opposition includes not only the Green movement, led by Captain Jacques Cousteau, but industrial companies that want t "cogenerate" their own electricity--as many of their European competitors already do--but find themselves stymied by the French power monopoly. The Central Bank, which was recently granted the kind of political autonomy that is common in most industrial countries, has begun to rebel against the massive deb that it is now carrying on behalf of the French nuclear industry--at substantia cost to the rest of the nation's economy. …

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