French President Emmanuel Macron is set to announce a massive building effort by the French state energy company, EDF. The goal is to construct at least six new nuclear reactors by 2050, which will ensure the country's continued supply of low-cost energy.
Nuclear energy gets a lot of bad rep these days, due to past (and admittedly, very damaging) accidental meltdowns. France, however, generates a lot of its energy requirements using nuclear power. It has been one of the largest producers of such energy since the 1970s. And it's a safe bet to say that it will keep splitting the atom to keep the lights on: French President Emmanuel Macron is set to announce the construction of at least six new reactors over the next five decades.
"It (nuclear) is ecological, it enables us to produce carbon-free electricity, it helps give us energy independence, and it produces electricity that is very competitive," a French presidential aide told reporters on Wednesday.
The initiative is not without its detractors, however. France has a bit of a history of spectacularly exceeding its budgets and timelines when building nuclear reactors. The state-run company EDF is already massively indebted from building efforts in France, Britain, and Finland. As an example, its flagship program -- in the northern French province of Flamanville -- is expected to cost over four times its initial budget (of 3.3 billion euros / 3.8 billion dollars) and will at best become operational next year, some 11 years later than expected. Yannick Jadot, one of the contenders for the French presidency, criticized Macron's decision on these grounds.
Still, as part of this initiative, Macron will be visiting a turbine manufacturing site in eastern France on a pre-election visit in which he will detail his energy policy and stance on nuclear energy. Currently, the atomic industry covers around 70% of the energy requirements of the country.
According to presidential aides, Macron will be announcing the construction of at least six new reactors by EDF. He will also set out his vision "of our future energy mix, for nuclear but also renewables and energy efficiencies," according to the aide.
Despite this, its reactors are aging, and France should be looking to replace them if nuclear energy is to remain a mainstay of its power grids.
The final outcome of this initiative depends entirely on the outcome of the French presidential elections in April. Most candidates have announced their intention to continue investing in the industry, although two candidates -- hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Greens' Yannick Jadot -- oppose the continued use of nuclear power due to environmental concerns.
All in all, however, France seems to have thrown its hat squarely in the ring of nuclear power. Last month, it successfully lobbied for it to be labeled as "green" by the European Commission, which means it can now attract funding as a climate-friendly power source.
Europe as a whole is still divided on the future of atomic energy. Germany, for example, decided to phase it out entirely by 2022 following the Fukushima disaster of 2011.