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France puts a number on amount of reactors to be closed: 17

For the first time, the French government has put an actual number on planned nuclear reactor closures. It’s 17. The estimation was made by Environment Minister, Nicolas Hulot, a former environmental campaigner. While the reduction would achieve the same objective identified by the previous Hollande government — a 50% share from nuclear power, down from 75% by 2025 — it still represents a shift in approach, says Yves Marignac, director of WISE-Paris.

“Hulot is the first Minister to come out with a number of reactors to shut down,” wrote Marignac. “Neither Hollande nor any of his prime ministers and environment ministers have ever dared to give such a number.” This reluctance was a tactic, Marignac said, to avoid angering EDF, trades unions and politicians.

Hollande's pronouncements about shutdowns were vague and non-committal with the closure of France's oldest commercial reactor, Fessenheim, perpetually delayed. Campaigners have agitated for years for the plant's closure, often in large demonstrations (pictured.) But for Hollande, voicing empty rhetoric to keep pro-nuclear foes at bay, was politically and strategically simpler than putting a number and a date on actual nuclear plant shutdowns.

Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, was an international nuclear salesman with no interest in ending French nuclear pre-eminence internationally. But now, with the virtual bankruptcy of Areva, and falsification scandals surrounding the forge it owns at Le Creusot -- which has manufactured what are now believed to be major safety components with serious technical flaws -- the French nuclear star is rapidly waning.

Anti-nuclear groups in France have historically been largely ignored by the media, but the “overall positive way this statement was received by the mainstream media somehow shows an increasing readiness of economic and political spheres to support such a change,” wrote Marignac of Hulot's announcement. 

Seeing this as “ the opening of an unprecedented process,” and “a first step in the right direction,” Marignac says, can lead to the crucial next steps of identifying the reactors to be shut down and creating a real timeline and deadline for this to happen. This represents, Marignac says, “a huge opportunity” to accelerate the French energy transition, and those who support it should get firmly behind the initiative to push it through to fruition.