Emmanuel Macron has announced the “revival” of the French nuclear industry with a major plan to build 14 new reactors, saying it will help end the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and make France neutral by 2050.
“What our country needs … is the rebirth of the French nuclear industry,” Macron said in a speech to the eastern industrial city of Belfort, in which he praised the country’s technological power.
The French midfielder, who is expected to announce his re-election campaign this month, is aware of a growing debate over power ahead of the presidential vote this spring as costs rise for consumers. Environmental problems are also a growing problem among French voters.
Atomic energy supplies about 70% of France’s electricity, and affordable nuclear power has been a mainstay of the French economy since the 1970s, but recent efforts to build new generation reactors to replace older models have led to increased costs and delays.
Presidential candidates on the right have backed many nuclear power industries, saying France should “rule” over its power, while dissidents on the left warned of the cost and complexity of building new reactors. Environmentalists have raised concerns about safety from radioactive waste that lasts for tens of thousands of years.
Macron said French nuclear regulators were “partners” in their strength and training and that the decision to build nuclear power plants “was a decision of progress, a choice of confidence in science and technology”.
He also announced the rapid pace of development of solar and overseas wind power. He said France had no choice but to rely on renewable energy and nuclear power and that the country would have to use very little power for decades to come.
He said he would like to extend the life of all French nuclear industries where it is safe to do so.
The announcement comes at a difficult time for the debt-controlled state power provider, EDF, which is facing delays and budget breaches in new nuclear facilities in France and Britain, as well as the rust issues of some of the aging materials.
Macron announced the construction of at least six new reactors by EDF by 2050, with an option for the other eight.
His recent focus on nuclear power marks a policy change from the beginning of his presidency, in which he promised to reduce its share of French power mixes.
The French government has strongly and successfully appealed to the European Commission to label its “green” nuclear power this month in a landmark review that could attract funding as a climate-friendly source of energy.
The president of Green, Yannick Jadot, said it was important to gradually eliminate France’s dependence on nuclear weapons to protect the climate and safety of the French people. He said the Macron project was looking back and would discard France as a form of “power and industry”.