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The next world will need nuclear power

  • 03.06.2020

The current health crisis will have far-reaching economic, social and political consequences that are still difficult to grasp while current events remain focused on the urgency of public health and social preservation measures. But while France, and Europe more broadly, is committed to deconflicting its population, we must be aware that the major stimulus plans being prepared to emerge from the recession will structure our economies and shape the world in which we will live, in a sustainable manner.

Industrial restructuring

The energy of the next world will therefore have to be low in CO2 emissions. Indeed, excess CO2 emissions are the main cause of global warming. It is therefore urgent to limit them. Let's just remember that in addition to ensuring our country's energy independence, nuclear electricity, with about 12 g of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, emits 40 times less CO2 than gas and 60 times less than coal, and even 4 times less than solar energy (Source Giec).

The nuclear industry must therefore be one of the driving forces behind a recovery which, unlike that of 2008, would not see the growth curve pick up again at the same time as that of greenhouse gas emissions. It relies on a broad industrial fabric, involving more than 3,000 high value-added and therefore future economic development companies (more than 80% of which are SMEs and ETIs) representing more than 220,000 jobs in France and more than 1.1 million in the European Union. The nuclear industry is already providing regular activity thanks to the operation of the current fleet. Today, the Grand Carénage is an essential source of activity for nearly 1,000 service provider companies, while its overall budget, financed entirely by EDF, amounts to €48 billion.

Several other major projects would constitute significant assets to support the revival of economic activity in our country. In particular, the launch of a programme to build new EPR reactors in France is intended to be a significant driving force in the country's reindustrialisation policy and to respond to the concern, revived by the crisis, for control and autonomy for our vital sectors. It would make it possible to trigger the necessary financing from banks to modernise our plants and meet future orders, while reassuring them about cost plans. Its repercussions would translate into thousands of direct jobs and could contribute to the survival of many companies.

Energy independance

The energy sector, by its very nature, is confronted with these issues on a daily basis. The discussions that have been underway for several years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally and build sustainable energy models have found confirmation of their relevance and legitimacy in the current crisis. Epidemic crisis and climate crisis have in fact in common to highlight the need to protect global public goods, at the risk if not of serious human, social and economic damage.

There is an urgent need to go further. Thanks to its nuclear industry, France has on its soil the means for a stable and continuous supply of electricity, thus contributing to the country's energy sovereignty whatever the global situation. In fact, thanks to the choices made in their time to gain energy independence from oil and the depletion of coal reserves, France has the structures capable of producing, in a stable, continuous manner, the electricity needed for all aspects of our lives, starting with the operation of hospitals, the agri-food sector, the industrial sector, businesses and every French household.

In fact, faced with circumstances unimaginable a few months ago, the French nuclear industry has shown its resilience: it has fulfilled its role as the leading electricity producer in France and guaranteed the stability of the network. Thanks to the measures put in place, it has been able to carry out its missions in the general interest, in complete safety, at all times and for all French people.

Beyond the current health crisis, nuclear power also has more than ever a role to play in the fight against global warming. World electricity consumption will continue to rise in the coming years despite the necessary efforts in terms of energy efficiency. The next world will require energy to power industries and the most basic aspects of our lives: heating, travel, food, healthcare, etc.

Major opportunity

The momentum is already there. We have been working on optimizing the constructability of the reactor for several years and with the Excell plan, our industry has undertaken a major industrial overhaul that provides it with the indispensable levers to control the development of this new project. The dossier we are preparing on the technical elements, timetable and financing required for such an industrial programme, expected in mid-2021, can be finalised rapidly.

We will need these new reactors, whatever happens, to ensure stable, carbon-free production in the electricity mix in the long term and to strengthen the industrial sovereignty of France and Europe. To give ourselves the means to keep all the levers to decide in fifteen years' time on a new change in our energy mix, with high-performance nuclear power, renewable energies and electricity storage facilities, or even new solutions that may emerge by then.

With each major crisis, investment in infrastructure, particularly in the energy sector, has been a major opportunity for recovery and even reconstruction. With its nuclear industry, France has an advantage when it comes to considering an industrial and economic recovery that is consistent with its climate objectives. We are ready to take up the challenge. Many things must change. It is urgent. However, if we want this next world to be resilient and environmentally friendly, while maintaining an acceptable standard of living for everyone, we will not be able to do without nuclear energy.

What are the priorities for recovery?

In this context, which remains marked by many uncertainties, what should be the priorities for the recovery? What are the criteria that we must not deviate from? The President of the Republic and the Government have outlined them: reindustrializing our territory, ensuring our security of supply in terms of basic necessities and our national sovereignty in strategic sectors. This is in order to meet the basic needs of the population and guarantee their safety and health, despite major upheavals that were still unimaginable just a few months ago.

A long-term strategy, in which the fight against climate change will have to remain a priority. For while greenhouse gas emissions are expected to fall, according to the High Council for the Climate, by between 5% and 15% by 2020 in France in the light of the current crisis, this reduction will remain much lower than what is necessary to hope one day to achieve the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050.

This column was also published in l'Opinion.

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