France to debate 'energy transition'

21 September 2012

A national debate will be launched later this year to discuss France's 'energy transition'. The results of the debate will be used in formulating a new energy policy bill in mid-2013. Meanwhile, the directors of the country's nuclear power plant fleet have voiced their support for their colleagues at Fessenheim, ordered to shut down in 2016.

Plans for the debate were presented by minister for environment, sustainable development and energy, Delphine Batho. It is being organized "in a concern for environmental effectiveness, economic efficiency and social justice. Particular attention will be paid to social issues and economic transitions as well as industrial and professional retraining authorities."

The debate will take place in three phases. An 'information phase' will be held between November and December 2012, followed by a phase of public participation between January and April 2013. This phase - which will be supported by a dedicated website and regional conferences - will lead to recommendations being made in May 2013. The results of the debate will be used to formulate an energy policy bill in June 2013.

The debate will be moderated by several bodies: a national organizing committee; a committee of scientific experts; a citizens' committee; and a national commission representing state and local authorities, employers, workers, associations and parliamentarians.

A conference on France's 'ecological transition' was held on 14-15 September in Paris to conduct a consultation on the government's work program on environmental issues. The government will hold a seminar soon to consider a road map for implementing conclusions from the conference. Batho said that the environmental conference helped to clarify the terms of the national debate on energy transition.

Socialist Francois Hollande was elected as the president of France in May, narrowly defeating the former Republican president Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande's campaign manifesto proposed a reduction in nuclear's share of the country's energy mix and pledging to order the closure of the two-unit Fessenheim plant - France's oldest nuclear power plant - before the end of his first term in 2017.

Speaking at the ecological transition conference, Hollande confirmed that Fessenheim - in the Alsace region of north-eastern France - will close "at the end of 2016", provided that provisions are in place to ensure a secure electricity supply for the region and to safeguard employment. The president pledged that the site would become an "example" to the world of French decommissioning expertise.

Fessenheim support

The site directors of all of EDF's French nuclear powers plants have written an open letter expressing their "incomprehension" of the closure of Fessenheim plant and showing their support for the workers there.

Calling the shut down a "profound injustice," the letter said, "We recognize your work and investment and we all know very well what this encompasses. We understand the bitterness felt today, all the more as you have always fulfilled your mission ... to provide France with safe, available, affordable and low-carbon electricity."

It added, "This decision creates considerable uncertainty about EDF's plans for its nuclear power plant fleet. It also casts doubt on employment and economic development for our territories, starting with the territory of Alsace. Our plants do not relocate, we live with them with our families integrated into areas that are dear to us."

The site directors said that a transition to low-carbon, sustainable energy production "will have to take into account, while protecting the competitiveness of our economy, the purchasing power of households and the confidence we have in our future." France currently has some of the cheapest electricity prices  and lowest carbon dioxide emissions in Europe.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News