Another energy debate kicks off

1 February 2003

France The French government decided in early January to launch a wide-ranging debate on energy. The declared intention is to inform the French people on energy issues and to involve them in the future choices for the next 30 years.

Although secretary of state for industry Nicole Fontaine has said that "no decision has yet been made," several sources among the government have confirmed that the agenda of the French government is to relaunch the nuclear industry with the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), the next generation of nuclear reactors developed by Framatome ANP.

Announcing the plan for the debate, Fontaine said: "We must soon make important choices, define the energy mix for the next 30 years in setting our sights on sustainable development, at a European and at a global level…This will include thought as to the role and the future of nuclear, of taking decisions such as those concerning the EPR, and to define the role of renewables in the production of electricity, in thermal uses and transport." The energy debate is aimed at influencing a draft law to be issued this autumn on France's energy policy guidelines beyond 2030. The country has new challenges to tackle since the 1970s, when the French government gave its go-ahead for a wide nuclear programme. Current issues include: environment (from greenhouse gases to maritime oil pollution); energy market liberalisation; and global geopolitical instability.

The debate will be organised by the ministry of economy, finance and industry, in close collaboration with other ministries concerned: ecology and sustainable development, land planning, transport, housing, tourism and sea, and youth, education and research. It will last from 18 March to late May. Six forums will be held: in Paris (the opening and the wrap up events), and in Strasbourg (daily use of energy), Rennes (energy and businesses), Bordeaux (fossil fuels) and Nice (other energy resources).

The ministry of economy, finance and industry is setting up a website ( for French citizens to test, inform and voice their opinions on energy options. Although the website was not live as NEI went to press, the ministry said the site would include topics such as energy and the environment, energy dependence, energy consumption, energy and the economy, energy reserves, renewables and nuclear energy. An advertising campaign, mainly aimed at young people, has also been launched.

Announcing the debate, Fontaine said that it would be coordinated by a committee comprising a dozen people "in order to foster the sincerity of the debate, its transparency and the expression of multiple opinions." In addition, an expert committee comprising sociologist Edgar Morin, scientist Pierre Castillon and journalist Marc Lesggy, will look at the quality of the debate. A "consultative committee", chaired by a consultant (Jean-Marc Jancovici) will gather all interests concerned by the debate: elected representatives, operators, associations and experts. They will foster the diversity of the contributions. Finally, a French MP, Jean Besson (Rhône constituency) will be the link between the debate and the various elected people at local, national and European level.

"This first and extensive debate on energy is a big risk," Fontaine said, "since all the arguments are not decided." However she hopes that the government will be seen as willing to enter into a transparent dialogue and build a national consensus "as wide as possible" on its choices, committing France "for generations".

Fontaine has also called on energy companies to "hold their advertising campaigns in relation to a particular energy option," in order to ensure a balanced debate. Areva immediately suspended its advertising.

A governmental agency, the Economical Analysis Council, has already started submitting material with the publication of a report on "Kyoto and the economics of greenhouse effects". The paper brings nothing new but clearly states the different options available to fight climate change, and most important, their respective price. It suggests for example that if France is able to develop carbon sinks, this would require a radical change of agricultural habits in land use or cultivation methods. It should not be difficult to convince farmers that continuing to use nuclear power generation would not require changing living style and would be much more efficient to fight climate change.

At a parliamentary workshop on energy held on 18 December 2002, most contributions were suggesting that France would have to build new nuclear plants. The ecology minister Roselyne Bachelot, an active supporter of nuclear, said that the energy debate would "have to underpin and give credit to energy choices, including the nuclear option."

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