French public sees continued use of nuclear energy

27 June 2019

The majority of French people believe nuclear energy will continue to play a significant role in the country's future energy mix, according to the results of a public opinion poll conducted by BVA on behalf of Orano. However, the study identified misconceptions about the costs and benefits of nuclear energy.

The survey was conducted by telephone between 4 and 27 April this year, with a representative sample of the French population comprising 3008 people aged 18 and over. Nationally, the survey was conducted with a sample of 2405 people, allowing for an interpretation in each of the 12 metropolitan regions. The survey was duplicated at the local level, around the La Hague (301 respondents) and Tricastin/Melox (302 respondents) sites.

The survey found that more than half of French people (54%) believe that the use of nuclear energy will remain stable or increase in France. The same proportion also considers that an energy mix comprising nuclear and renewables will develop in the coming years in France, as opposed to 26% who believe that energy production will be from renewable energies exclusively.

For 47% of respondents, the nuclear sector is seen as an asset for the dynamism of the French economy and for the energy independence of the country, while 34% see it as a handicap. Job creation was seen an important factor for nuclear energy by 56% of those questioned, with that figure increasing to 67% among respondents aged 18-24 years.

While the results of the survey shows strong support for the use of nuclear energy, Orano said they also "reveal perceptions that are still rooted with regard to the different impacts of nuclear energy, both in economic and environmental terms".

The French are largely unaware of nuclear energy's role in combatting climate change, with 69% of respondents thinking nuclear contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. "As an illustration of this perception, 11% and 10% of people think that coal and oil (respectively) contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear," Orano said.

The level of nuclear energy use in France is itself not widely known, with the majority of people putting nuclear's share of electricity production at around 59%. It is in fact 72%.

Similarly, 68% of people think that nuclear energy is expensive to produce, while 67% think French electricity is more expensive or as expensive as that of other European countries.

The survey found that people living near nuclear industrial sites show both a better understanding of the sector's issues and are more convinced of its benefits, both economic and environmental.

Orano CEO Philippe Knoche said: "The results of this survey reveal that the economic weight of the nuclear sector, which employs more than 220,000 people in our country, is a reality known to the French. Nevertheless, some preconceived ideas about this energy still seem to be shared by a majority of citizens. Inasmuch as nuclear energy is an essential component of the energy mix, it is vital to make people aware of the realities of this energy and of the indispensable role it will have in successfully negotiating the energy transition".

In November last year, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled the programmation pluriannuelle de l'énergie (PPE), a strategy document for managing the country's energy transition over the coming decades. At its core, the PPE aims to reduce France's utilisation of its nuclear fleet, which today comprises 58 operating reactors with a total capacity of 63.1 GWe. Launching the PPE, Macron announced that a total of 14 French power reactors of 900 MWe capacity will be shut down in order to reduce the share of nuclear in the country's electricity generation mix from the current 75% to 50% by 2035. He said the closure schedule will depend on the transition of France's energy mix, including the planned increase of renewable energy sources and the expansion of interconnection capacity with neighbouring countries.

At the end of April, a draft energy and climate bill was presented to the Council of Ministers by Minister for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition François de Rugy which would delay this planned reduction from the current 2025 target to 2035.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News