French unions blockaded and shut down a nuclear power plant Wednesday, marking a a serious escalation in the two months of protests against new pro-market labor regulations passed by the ruling socialist government.
The French union General Confederation of Labour (CGT) voted to bring the Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear plant southeast of Paris to “a complete halt” Wednesday night. Workers at other nuclear plants are considering shutting down more reactors. Polling indicates that the majority of France blames the government for the tense standoff.
France’s Socialist President, Francois Hollande, claims he “won’t give in” in the protests and has accused the unions of “taking the country hostage.”
Shutting down reactors could devastate France, as the country’s 58 nuclear reactors generate almost 75 percent of its electricity, meaning the strike could totally disrupt the national economy.
Additionally, 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 — earning 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.
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, according to the World Nuclear Association. The law requires France to reduce the share of nuclear energy production to only 50 percent by 2025.
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.
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