Since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan, things have continued to get worse for nuclear world-wide.
In the past months, Germany and Switzerland decided to phase-out their nuclear power infrastructure by 2022. Just this past week, Italy passed a referendum outlawing the return of nuclear power. Yet, France continues to hold strong and shows no sign of changed policies concerning the country’s generation of nuclear power.
And now the worst drought in at least 35 years (according to the French farming unions) is threatening France’s complex nuclear reactor network. France gets 78.8 % of the country’s electricity from 59 operating nuclear reactors; this is the highest percentage in the world. As 44 of the 59 reactors are cooled by river water (the rest are located on the coast), the drought conditions seriously threaten energy supply.
The French government has established a committee to monitor the electricity supply with regards to river flow. Any reduction on the part of France in nuclear energy production could affect large parts of Europe. France is the world’s largest net energy exporter; 18 percent of the energy generated by France is exported to Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands at present.
In the wake of Fukushima there has been public criticism over the extent to which France depends upon nuclear energy sources. There is a push to extend towards other renewable energy sources, especially wind in the coming years. (see more HERE). But, the French government continues to promote nuclear as a “dependable energy source,” but the strong potential effects from the current drought threaten that argument. French Minister for European Affairs, Laurent Wauquiez, continues to depend France’s faith in nuclear generation; he cites economic and ecological advantages. Ignoring the motivating arguments for Germany’s decision to follow the precautionary principle regarding nuclear, Wauquiez only notes that “electric power now costs two times more than that in France.”
The French government is aware that the nuclear debate will be a major issue during the 2012 presidential campaign. About half of the nuclear reactors in France are older than 25 years and are coming online for replacement. Thus, should France decide to do so, it is a prime time to switch direction in energy generation methodology. In many ways, the direction will depend on the severity of the current drought on France’s ability to generate nuclear power reliably.