The French are falling back in love with nuclear energy, and so is their president. In 2019, only 34 per cent of people polled expressed a positive view of France’s nuclear programme, a figure that had increased to 51 per cent two years later. The most recent survey revealed it to be 60 per cent.
If Emmanuel Macron had been polled he would have given nuclear energy the thumbs up, a reversal of his position when he was first elected president in 2017. He came to office promising to reduce the share of nuclear power in the energy mix to 50 per cent by 2025.
The next year he delighted Germany by announcing that France would shut down 14 nuclear reactors by 2035, six of which would be closed by 2030.
But as the reality of reducing France’s dependency on nuclear energy began to bite, so Macron began to have second thoughts. First, he pushed back his 50 per cent reduction target from 2025 to 2035, and then last February he announced in a speech the ‘renaissance of the French nuclear industry’.
Six new-generation reactors would be built, declared the president, with the possibility of a further eight. ‘Some nations made radical choices to turn their backs on nuclear,’ said Macron. ‘France did not make this choice. But we did not invest because we had doubts.’
Vladimir Putin dispersed those doubts. Two weeks after Macron’s volte-face, Russia invaded Ukraine, plunging Europe into an energy crisis and the French president into a political one. As energy bills have risen, so has the anger of the people, particularly small traders unable to pay bills that they quadrupled and more in the space of a year.
On Tuesday evening the French Senate began examining the bill for the relaunch of the country’s nuclear programme, which currently produces 70 per cent of its electricity.