Unable to pay for new builds French President extends lifespan of nuclear reactors beyond 40 years

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Smoke rises from a fire at the French Tricastin Nuclear Power Plant in 2011

Japan’s nuclear tragedy is igniting a debate in France  which generates more than three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear energy.   The French nuclear sector has the unflinching support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has decided to extend the lifespan of France’s nuclear plants so they can operate beyond 40 years.  State-owned Electricite de France is a French powerhouse, which operates all of the nation’s nuclear reactors and which wants their licenses extended by 20 years.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy has lobbied hard at home and abroad in favor of nuclear power, a substantial sector of the French economy. France actively exports nuclear energy technology and takes in nuclear plant waste from countries around the world.  However, Sarkozy is also trailing in presidential election polls to Francois Hollande, who has pledged to reduce the nation’s dependence to under 50 percent if elected.

22 of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors will have reached their 40 year lifespan by 2022.  The French government, meanwhile, is expected to release its own analysis of the nuclear energy program there by mid-month. It will say that increasing the lives of the existing units there from 40 to 60 years is a better way to spend the national wealth than to build new power plants from scratch.

“The president has decided to ask all the operators to position themselves to be able to prolong the lifespan of our reactors and our nuclear plants beyond 40 years,” France’s industry minister, Eric Besson said. The decision doesn’t automatically mean an extension because the regulator has the final say, according to the minister.  “It would be a waste to halt our reactors at 40 years,” Besson said.  A nuclear power exit would be “destructive” for French industry, Besson said. “There’s nothing reasonable about it.”

In January, French regulators said that all of the nations units current security techniques must be enhanced right away.  The French Nuclear Safety Authority also added that stronger safety measures are needed to prevent the spread of radiation in the event of an accident.


“Nothing has changed,” says Jacques Besnainou, chief executive of Areva North America, in an interview with this writer, referring to the events in Japan. “This event will make nuclear safer. We think nuclear is still a good bet. Fukushima will not delay the renaissance.”


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  1. The biggest risk now with nuclear power is almost anyone can cause a meltdown. WE know from TMI that a switch out of position can cause a meltdown; it is easy for a person with basic electronics to get hired on at a plant and screw with switches and relays. A person spending about $5,000.00 could wire in wireless remote controls to change readings at will. Also I have read about sun surge in 1860’s that was so massive that the electrical surge was so high that it will take out all electrical power including battery, generators and main power grid. This was many times greater than the surge that hit the Quebec power grid several years ago that toke it out. This could mean that all the plants in the world facing the sun when the surge hits will go into a meltdown all at the same time could be over 50 plants involved. These plants are vulnerable to cosmic events including comet showers. But this does not stop the industry I do not know what will other then demanding the leaders of each country shut them down no courts involved.

  2. I believe that once French consumers and especially French property owners realize that they are NOT covered for any type of fallout, leakage or contamination caused by radioactivity, they will begin to reexamine their “trust” in nuclear because of their financial liability!

    Question: How many in Europe (for example) could afford to just walk away from their homes if one of the reactors in France had a meltdown for any reason; without even considering the health implications later? The answer of course is NOT MANY! We have only to see what has happened in Japan to get a good idea; in short France cannot afford a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster any better than Japan.

    Remember most of the “rest” of Europe is downwind from France! Japan has been “lucky” in that regard ,since most of its radioactivity has move toward eastward North America and the rest of the planet; yet most of Northern Japan is now getting more not less contaminated!

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