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« Nuclear Power - The Global Market is Forecast to Exceed $245 Billion by 2026 - | Main | Nuclear power looks to shrink its way to success »

Are Environmentalist Stunts Obfuscating A Serious Nuclear Debate?

The Greenpeace activists who crashed a Superman-styled drone into an EDF facility near Lyon, France on July 3 pulled off the latest of several stunts designed to highlight the vulnerability of France’s ageing nuclear reactors. In a country whose energy mix is built on nuclear power, the strategy is working: the Superman incident came just before a French parliamentary report called out security “failings” at some facilities. Revelations of faulty welding at the new Flamanville reactor have since added yet more fuel to the fire.

France’s anti-nuclear groups have been successful in capturing media attention – and public support – but that hasn’t changed the facts on the ground for the energy sector. France is heavily reliant on nuclear energy and has been since the 1980s, after the Messmer plan (named for the French premier who introduced it) called for a transition to an economy powered exclusively by nuclear energy. France’s 58 nuclear power plantsaccounted for 71.6% of the country’s electricity generation last year, the highest national share of any country in the world.

Hounding Hulot

President Emmanuel Macron came into office promising to significantly curtail nuclear’s role in the energy mix, keeping to predecessor François Hollande’s pledge to cut it from 75% to 50% by 2025. Just a few months later, though, Macron and environment minister Nicolas Hulot found themselves walking back that pledge. The new government was forced to admit the 2025 target was impossible to achieve without putting France at risk of energy shortages and jeopardizing the country’s carbon emissions targets.

Greenpeace hasn’t taken kindly to that change of course. This past April, Greenpeace energy representative Alix Mazounie said the group felt “Hulot is laying down in front of EDF [the national electricity utility].” Soon afterwards, the group marked the one-year anniversary of Macron’s election by writing off what it called a “year of claptrap for the climate” and accusing the French president of letting EDF write the country’s energy policy.

The Eastern Front

Macron and France have gotten off easy compared to one of the environmental organization’s favorite targets: Rosatom. Greenpeace’s criticism has only intensified as the Russian nuclear energy giant has emerged as the global leader in overseas projects, signing a number of high-profile deals to build new reactors everywhere from Finland to Turkey.


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