France Puts 2,000 People Out Of Work In The Name Of Green Energy

(REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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France is turning away from nuclear power in favor of solar and wind power schemes to fight the specter of global warming.

Ségolène Royal, France’s environmental minister, announced Monday the government will start shutting down the Fessenheim nuclear reactor in Alsace by the end of 2016. The reactor is the oldest in France, and has long been a target for environmentalist opposition which has led to it being repeatedly criticized by the governments of Germany and Switzerland.

Royal speculated the reactor’s facility could be used to make green energy or be converted into a car factory through an unspecified process. She estimated shutting down the reactor will leave approximately 2,000 people out of work.

France’s nuclear safety agency said there was “no need” to shut the reactor from safety point of view. The agency specified that safety was not the issue, and the reactor was being closed to comply with government policy.

An annual report published Wednesday by the French government revealed a law passed last November could force Electricite de France (EDF), a state-controlled utility, to close up to 24 of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2025. France currently operates 63,200 megawatts of nuclear capacity which provides 75 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. The law requires France to reduce the share of nuclear energy production to only 50 percent by 2025.

France plans to replace the lost electrical capacity with wind and solar power, but most of the plans to do so are not realistic. The country even plans to convert 620 miles of road into solar panels, which has been repeatedly criticized as unrealistic by scientists.

Switching to green energy will damage France’s power grid, which is set up to handle nuclear. In order for any power grid to function, demand for energy must exactly match supply. Power demand is relatively predictable and nuclear plants can adjust output accordingly. Solar or wind power cannot easily adjust output and are thus unpredictable compared to nuclear power.

Shutting down reactors is a huge policy shift as reactors and fuel products and services are a major French export. The country is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity and mainly sells to Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain. This earns France about $3.38 billion annually. France has also been very active in developing nuclear technology and is building some of the world’s most advanced reactors.

EDF owns most of France’s reactors, but the company has serious financial problems and many of its projects have credit ratings below investment grade. The company is more than $40 billion in debt. Shares in EDF have fallen 55 percent over the past year, reducing its market capitalization to only $23.6 billion. The French government owns 85 percent of EDF.

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