Hollande wins French presidential election

08 May 2012

The Socialist Party's Francois Hollande has narrowly beaten Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election. It is unknown whether Hollande will carry through proposed large-scale cuts to France's nuclear generating capacity, including the closure of the country's oldest nuclear power plant.

Hollande wins presidential election (PS)
Francois Hollande celebrates his win (Image: French Socialist Party)

In the second round of presidential elections on 6 May, Hollande won 51.6% of the votes, while Republican Sarkozy received 48.4%. Hollande's victory marks the first time since 1995 that a Socialist has held the position.

As a concession to the Greens, with whom the Socialists were looking to form a coalition, Hollande proposed reducing nuclear's share of the country's energy mix from the current level of almost 75% to about 50% by 2030. If elected, he pledged to order the closure France's oldest nuclear power plant - the two-unit Fessenheim plant - before the end of his first term in 2017. However, a poor result by the Greens' candidate, Eva Joly, in the first round of elections held on 22 April may prompt Hollande not to form a coalition government with the party.

In a report released in November 2011, Union Francaise de l’Electricite (UFE), the French professional association for the electricity industry, concluded that the proposed cut-back in the use of nuclear energy would be costly, raise energy prices and increase carbon emissions. Under the scenario to cut nuclear's share of France's energy mix to 50%, 26 of the country's 58 operating reactors would shut by 2030. This would require investments of some €382 billion ($527 billion) in order to meet projected electricity demand. However, maintaining nuclear usage at 70% would require investments of some €322 billion ($444 billion).

Meanwhile, France's state audit office - the Cour des Comptes (Court of Audit) - concluded in January that investing in new nuclear generating capacity or any other form of energy would be too expensive and come online too late. Extending the operating lives of its existing nuclear power reactors would be the country's best option, it said.

Observers doubt that Hollande will take strong action against nuclear during Europe's current period of economic stagnation. In addition, he has agreed to the completion of the Flamanville 3 EPR and has said that he would not prevent the construction of another EPR at Penly.

During his term of office Sarkozy has been a highly visible supporter of nuclear power, hosting international conferences, helping 'Team France' export nuclear goods and services abroad and authorising the construction of two new reactors at home. During the election campaign, Sarkozy visited the Fessenheim plant and told workers that he would follow the advice of regulators concerning its continued operation.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News