France took a little longer than Germany to process the post-Fukushima shift in public opinion, but today it was announced that plans to build a 3rd generation nuclear power plant at Penly in Seine-Maritime has been “paused”. The EPR – European Pressurized Reactor – developed by France’s Areva between 1990 and 2000 – is currently under construction in Finland, China and France. Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, said that the project “no longer has a calendar”. This was quickly deflected by the Energy Minister, Eric Besson, who insisted that the project was “not blocked”.
Construction was to have begun on the Penly project in 2012. It would have been the first nuclear reactor not to be 100% controlled by the electricity company EDF. EDF was to have been a 50% stakeholder, with 8.33% for Total and the rest divided between Italy’s Enel and Germany’s Eon.
The two other EPR’s already under construction in Europe – at Flamanville in France and another in Finland – have been dogged by delays and vast budget over-runs.
Laure Noualhat‘s blog at Liberation contains an interesting piece of internal communication at EDF from last month. It’s a message from EDF’s CEO Henri Proglio to his employees, issued several days after Fukushima. Here are some highlights:
“As employees of a group whose nuclear activity is known and recognized, you will inevitably be questioned by your family, friends and neighbours. It is important that you are able to reassure them on the means that EDF has put in place to prevent risks at its plants.”
“Under such circumstances, humility and responsibility are de rigueur. When the time comes to do an audit, we will draw lessons from the Japanese tragedy to make our installations even safer.
“I know that I can count on your support during this delicate period for the nuclear industry.”
This all started back in the 1970s, when France – responding to the 1973 oil crisis – announced a huge nuclear program aimed at generating all of the country’s electricity from nuclear power, without any public or parliamentary consultation.
So, contrary to what may appear like public support for the nuclear lobby, what the Fukushima experience has revealed in fact is just how fragile public opinion is on this issue.