French Lawmakers Debate Bill to Ease Building of Reactors, Amid Rising Support For Nuclear Energy

Fayçal Benhassain | March 14, 2023 | 8:21pm EDT
Text Audio
00:00 00:00
Font Size
A nuclear power plant in southwestern France. (Photo by Matthieu Rondel / AFP via Getty Images)
A nuclear power plant in southwestern France. (Photo by Matthieu Rondel / AFP via Getty Images)

Paris ( – French lawmakers are discussing a bill to speed up the construction of new nuclear energy reactors, at a time when public support here for nuclear energy appears to be on the rise – even among younger people who tend to be more environmentally conscious.

First presented by President Emmanuel Macron last November, the legislation aims to simplify administrative procedures and accelerate the building of six new reactors over the next decade.  Macron said the plan was to make France, which already gets more than two-thirds of its electricity from nuclear energy, less dependent on foreign energy supplies.

Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told lawmakers that current procedures for building a reactor were “very difficult to implement,” and the legislation would speed up construction by two or three years, without “compromising on safety.”

Environmentalists often oppose nuclear energy, even though it accounts for significantly lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels. The Greens party here is launching a counter-offensive to Macron’s plans, calling for another “Citizen’s Convention” to discuss it, like a previous one on climate, held in 2019-2020.

At a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s overdependence on Russian energy supplies and the need to diversify sources, support for nuclear energy appears to be growing in France.

A January poll conducted by Odoxa, an independent research institute in Paris, found more enthusiasm for the bill among younger citizens, with 80 percent of those under 35 in favor compared to 65 percent among those 65 years and older.

It said 60 percent of French people now view nuclear energy positively, compared to 34 percent in 2019.

Greens lawmakers have observed that recent demonstrations organized by the party had attracted fewer young people than was the case a decade ago, but say they still hold out hope that they will draw enough support to counter the bill, and nuclear energy.

Greenpeace is also campaigning against the bill, claiming that it is based on two false assumptions – that nuclear power has the capacity to respond to the climate crisis, and that more nuclear power will bring energy sovereignty.

In a recent report, the advocacy group noted that France buys enriched uranium from Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom, a situation Greenpeace called “scandalous.”

“Nuclear power keeps France energy dependent on various countries, including Russia,” Greenpeace France campaigner Pauline Boyer told lawmakers last week, noting that this was happening “in the midst of the war in Ukraine.”

“In 2022, almost a third of the enriched uranium needed to operate our nuclear power plants for a year was imported from Russia,” she said. “It’s urgent to cut the cord that binds us to the regime of Vladimir Putin. We need to bet on renewable energies, sobriety and energy efficiency.”

Although Europe and U.S. have targeted Russian oil and gas in response to the Ukraine war, Rosatom has not been hit by sanctions, and a number of Western countries continue to obtain nuclear fuel and services from it.

On Friday Macron met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and they signed two energy partnerships highlighting nuclear power as a secure source of low-carbon energy. Sunak said that France and Britain were working together to ensure that “never again can the likes of Putin weaponize our energy security.”

mrc merch