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Across the Rhine, German Greens protest against nuclear power in Cologne, Germany on 26 March 2011. Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.0

French increasingly in favour of nuclear energy

The tsunami responsible for the accident at the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, seriously damaged the image of this energy. Nevertheless, the French are mostly in favour of nuclear as the energy of the future, according to a poll conducted for EDF, France's multinational electric utility company.

Published: March 11, 2021, 11:09 am

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    The latest poll, carried out in February, has given the EDF a reason to smile: 43 percent of those questioned believe that nuclear power is the energy of the future, against 30 percent convinced otherwise. “The opposition rate has never been so low. You have to go back to 1986, the date of the Chernobyl accident, to find such figures,” explained Didier Witkowski, head of studies at EDF.

    It was ten years ago: The tsunami responsible for the accident at the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The EDF, which has been carrying out surveys for years on the perception that the French have of the atom, had identified this image setback.

    In July 2011, a few months after the event, confidence fell sharply: the share of French people who saw nuclear energy as the energy of the future plummeted from 52 to 34 percent.

    But it is above all the election of Socialist Party member François Hollande which dealt it a blow. A few months before the arrival of the leftist at the Élysée, the Socialists (PS) and the Ecologists (EELV) had been negotiating an electoral agreement that included the closure of the Fessenheim nuclear plant and the phasing-out of a nuclear option in France.

    At the end of last year, President Macron turned the tables, stating publicly that “France’s energy and ecological future depends on nuclear power”. Another explanation for this renewed interest of the French: electric energy has a bright future, especially to power cars. Thus for the French, nuclear power ensures reliable and stable electricity production, which, moreover, does not depend on other countries.

    The fight surrounding climate change has however given a serious boost to French power plants. According to the ElectricityMap site, the atom emits only 12 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour produced, against 45 grams for solar and 490 grams for natural gas. Admittedly, not everyone perceives this advantage, but it is especially known to “opinion leaders”, as pollsters say. Ordinary French people are rather hesitant, probably for lack of information.

    In another survey conducted by the EDF on nuclear power, when asked whether they were “favorable”, “unfavorable”, “hesitant” or “no answer”, 35 percent of those polled did not express an opinion; ten years ago, this score was three times lower.

    There remained, on the other hand, two worrying elements on which the French were more or less consistent. First of all, there is the problem of radioactive waste and the second is the danger posed by power plants in the event of an accident or terrorist attack, in particular.

    In order to limit its polluting emissions, Finland also wishes to increase the share of nuclear power in its energy production. Even environmentalists agree. The powerful Green party has expressed its support for nuclear power to limit CO2 emissions.

    “The Greens are not categorically against the construction of small nuclear reactors as a means of combating climate change,” said the president of the environmental party, also Minister of the Interior, Maria Ohisalo.

    While Finnish environmentalists are not really enthusiastic about the construction of new powerful nuclear power stations like the EPR of Olkiluoto, in the south of the country, which should enter into service next year, they adhere to the target and the means decided by the government: to increase the share of nuclear power to 50 percent, against around the current 30 percent, and to exit from coal by 2030.

    In France and Germany, the Ecologists and Greens have taken the opposite path, by wanting to reduce the atomic share from more than 70 to 50 percent by 2025, in favour of renewable energies.

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