Environmentalists appeal to Macron for nuclear

04 July 2017

An open letter to French president Emmanuel Macron warned him that closing nuclear power plants would be a step backward for France. If the country wants to build renewables, let the new capacity support faster electrification of transport, said Energy for Humanity.

Published today, the letter was signed by 45 activists, writers and academics spearheaded by eminent climate scientist James Hansen as well as Kerry Emanuel and Francois-Marie Breon, the lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment report.

Energy for Humanity Executive Director Kirsty Gogan said, "For France, the next necessary step to help combat climate change and improve air quality is to increase clean electricity from all non-fossil sources and massively reduce fossil fuels used in heating and the transportation sector. Nuclear power must play a central role in this."

Dear President Macron,

We are writing as environmentalists, conservationists and climate scientists to congratulate you on your win in the presidential election, and to applaud your push for a carbon tax. Nobody has done more for advancing clean energy on the grid than France. In light of this knowledge, we are also writing to express our alarm at your decision to move France away from clean nuclear power.

Few nations have done more than France to demonstrate the humanitarian and environmental benefits of creating a high-energy, nuclear-powered, and electrified society. Not only was France host of United Nations climate talks, it also has some of the lowest per capita carbon emissions of any developed nation.

Any reduction in France's nuclear generation will increase fossil fuel generation and pollution given the low capacity factors and intermittency of solar and wind. Germany is a case in point. Its emissions have been largely unchanged since 2009 and actually increased in both 2015 and 2016 due to nuclear plant closures. Despite having installed 4 percent more solar and 11 percent more wind capacity, Germany's generation from the two sources decreased 3 percent and 2 percent respectively, since it wasn't as sunny or windy in 2016 as in 2015.

And where France has some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity in Europe, Germany has some of the most expensive and dirtiest. Germany spent nearly EUR 24 billion above market price in 2016 for its renewable energy production feed-in tariffs alone, but emissions have remained stagnant. Germany is set to miss its 2020 emission reduction goals by a wide margin. Despite its huge investment in renewables, only 46 percent of Germany's electricity comes from clean energy sources as compared to 93 percent in France.

Solar and wind can play an important role in France. However, if France is to make investments in solar and wind similar to those of Germany, they should add to France's share of clean energy, not inadvertently reduce it. Renewables can contribute to the further electrification of the transportation sector, which France has already done with its trains and should continue to do with personal vehicles.

Shifting from nuclear to fossil fuels and renewables would grievously harm the French economy in three ways: higher electricity prices for consumers and industry, an end to France's lucrative electricity exports, and - perhaps most importantly - the destruction of France's nuclear export sector. If the French nuclear fleet is forced to operate at lower capacity factors, it will cripple the French nuclear industry by adding costs and shrinking revenues. Eventually this will lead to poorer safety standards and less opportunities to fund research, development and efforts to export French nuclear technologies. Nations seeking to build new nuclear plants rightly want to know that the product France is selling is one that France itself values.

The French nuclear program has historically been the envy of the world. It demonstrated in the 1970s and 80s that the decarbonization of an industrialized country's electricity sector is in fact possible. For France, the next necessary step to help combat climate change and improve air quality is to increase clean electricity from all non-fossil sources and massively reduce fossil fuels used in heating and the transportation sector. Nuclear power must play a central role in this.


James Hansen, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University  

Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  

Robert Coward, President, American Nuclear Society  

Andrew Klein, Immediate Past President, American Nuclear Society  

Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of Better Angels of Our Nature  

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb  

Robert Stone, filmmaker, 'Pandora's Promise'  

Pascale Braconnot, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE, lead author for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and Fifth Assessment Report  

Francois-Marie Breon, Climate Researcher, IPSL/LSCE, lead author for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report  

Ben Britton, Ph.D, Deputy Director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London  

Claude Jeandron, President, Save the Climate, French association  

James Orr, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE  

Didier Paillard, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE  

Didier Roche, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE  

Myrto Tripathi, Climate Policy Director, Global Compact France  

John Asafu-Adjaye, PhD, Senior Fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs, Ghana, Associate Professor of Economics, The University of Queensland, Australia  

M J Bluck PhD, Director, Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London  

Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World  

Bruno Comby, President, Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy  

Wolfgang Denk, European Director, Energy for Humanity  

David Dudgeon, Chair of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, China  

Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland  

Christopher Foreman, author of The Promise & Peril of Environmental Justice, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland  

Martin Freer, Professor, Head of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute (BEI)  

Kirsty Gogan, Executive Director, Energy for Humanity  

Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University  

Malcolm Grimston, author of The Paralysis in Energy Decision Making, Honorary Research Fellow, Imperial College London  

Mel Guymon, Guymon Family Foundation  

Steven Hayward, Senior Resident Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley  

John Laurie, Founder and Executive Director, Fission Liquide  

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School  

John Lavine, Professor and Medill Dean Emeritus, Northwestern University  

Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University  

Mark Lynas, author, The God Species, Six Degrees  

Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University  

Alan Medsker, Coordinator, Environmental Progress – Illinois  

Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director, Berkeley Earth  

Richard Muller, Professor of Physics, UC Berkeley, Co-Founder, Berkeley Earth  

Rauli Partanen, Energy Writer, author of The World After Cheap Oil  

Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001  

Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison  

Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, India  

Michael Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress  

Jeff Terry, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology  

Tim Yeo, Chair, New Nuclear Watch Europe; former Chair, Energy and Climate Change Parliamentary Select Committee