France can’t afford to give up nukes, utility chief says

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Henri Proglio, CEO of French utility giant EDF, claimed that decommissioning nuclear plants would create massive expense and job losses.
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So you're thinking that, after Japan's Fukushima disaster, you'd like to drop nuclear energy? Fine. But you'd better be prepared to pay the price. That was the message from Henri Proglio, chief executive of Electricité de France, in an interview published on Wednesday in Le Parisien newspaper, writes New York Times energy and environment correspondent David Jolly.

Mr. Proglio told the paper that it was his ‘‘conviction'' that France, which gets more than three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear energy, would need to invest somewhere in the vicinity of $544 billion to build new fossil fuel power plants to replace lost generating capacity if it shut down its reactors.

That, he said, would have to be financed by a doubling of the price of electricity and would bring a 50 percent increase in France's greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Proglio said that 400,000 jobs, direct and indirect, in the nuclear industry would be threatened as well as another 100,000 future jobs dependent on nuclear exports. Another 500,000 jobs in energy-intensive sectors like aluminum production could be outsourced to other countries as a result of higher energy costs, he predicted.

‘‘In total, about one million jobs would be endangered,'' the executive told Le Parisien, ‘‘and that would cost 0.5 percent to 1 percent of gross domestic product. None of this is unimaginable. Technically, it's feasible, and we could choose to do so. But that's what it would entail.''

France's gross domestic product was about $2.6 trillion in 2010, according to World Bank data. So if Mr. Proglio's estimate is accurate the jobs lost would be valued at $13 billion to $26 billion.

France obtains more than three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power, and Electricité de France operates 58 reactors here. But the French have become increasingly ambivalent about nuclear power since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and Germany has decided that it will shut down all of its reactors by 2022.

François Hollande, the Socialist contender for the 2012 presidential elections, has suggested reducing the country's dependence on nuclear power by 50 percent in 2025. President Nicolas Sarkozy has meanwhile insisted that France is committed to nukes, so perhaps Mr. Proglio, a longtime ally, was just using the platform provided to him to tweak the French left.

Read more of this blog report from The New York Times.

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