France's nuclear Plans - with the Support of the EU Council of Ministers

When reforming the electricity market in Europe, the EU Council of Ministers decided that new and existing nuclear power plants may be subsidized by the state. Anti-nuclear activists in France are protesting against this decision. They are now hoping that the EU Parliament will stop the plans.

On October 17, 2023, the EU energy ministers agreed on how they want to reform the electricity market in the European Union: As the German energiezukunft portal reports, "state subsidies for new generation plants via contracts for difference are to become mandatory and replace the existing guaranteed compensation for electricity fed into the grid." However, the subsidization should not only apply to renewable energies, but also to new nuclear power plants at the insistence of France. However, existing nuclear power plants "may also be subsidized via contracts for differences if they undergo repowering, a lifetime extension or a capacity expansion." France's plan is to continue to subsidize French industry with low electricity prices. French nuclear power plants generate 70 percent of the country's electricity and are state-owned via Electricité de France (EDF), which is wholly owned by the French state.

The Nuclear Free Future Foundation has asked Réseau Sortir du nucléaire, the umbrella organization of the French anti-nuclear movement and co-publisher of the French Uranium Atlas, for a statement on the controversial decision of the Council of Ministers - and it is very clear: "Nuclear power - from existing and new plants - must under no circumstances benefit from state subsidies or gifts on the backs of electricity customers," says Damien Renault, member of the Board of Directors of Réseau Sortir du nucléaire. "Two central interests determine the position of France's pro-nuclear government at European level: the financing of the new nuclear expansion program, and what comes after the expiry of the so-called ARENH regulation*. In both cases, the electricity price is at stake. This will not change the production costs, which are already lower for renewables than for nuclear energy. However, the electricity price for customers has very different effects: If it is too low, it makes nuclear power appear cheaper, at least in the eyes of consumers, but places a burden on the producer - i.e. EDF, as is currently the case with ARENH. However, if the electricity price is higher, this is initially more favorable for the producer, but on the other hand makes its product more expensive and less competitive, thus killing the dogma of cheap nuclear power that is still valid in France." Even with a high electricity price, it is not a foregone conclusion that the electricity producer EDF will be able to cover its increased costs in view of the current explosion in the cost of generating nuclear power.

When it comes to nuclear power, the EU Council of Ministers has bowed to pressure from France. And at Poland's insistence, the Council has approved that coal and gas-fired power plants may be subsidized until 2028.

After the decision by the Council of Ministers, negotiations must now continue in the European Parliament. "The loopholes for France's ailing nuclear power plants and Poland's dirty coal-fired power stations" are not acceptable to the Greens in the European Parliament. Their chief negotiator and climate policy spokesperson Michael Bloss: "The Council cannot do the calculation without the Parliament, because we rule out new coal subsidies or special treatment for nuclear power. The fact that nuclear power plants should not face competition and the market is inefficient and not European".

* ARENH: Accès régulé à l'électricité nucléaire historique: Since the state-owned company Electricité de France (EDF), as a monopolist for decades with its 56 existing nuclear power plants whose costs have been written off, would have had an overpowering position compared to competitors on the market, it was legally obliged to sell a certain amount of electricity to them at the low price of 42 euros as part of the liberalization of the electricity market.

Foto: Pexels. The picture shows the Atomium in Brussels, which was built for Expo 1958. The building is a stone monument to the conviction of many politicians in the industrialized nations at the time that the progress of mankind would depend on the civilian use of nuclear power.

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