With the May 2012 presidential election in France approaching, parties are beginning to take a stand and divide on the issues, with nuclear power coming out as the most pressing. According to Reuters, a poll last month showed three quarters of French people interviewed wanted to withdraw from nuclear energy, against 22 percent who backed the nuclear expansion program.
France runs almost completely on nuclear power and has always been a strong proponent of keeping nuclear power as their main energy source. However, the environmental impact and debate on the effect of nuclear power has driven the French population to look for alternative sources of electricity.
Nuclear power is controversial because it entails the use of nuclear fission reactors by civilians, technologies which were once exclusively used by the military. Nuclear power equated to nuclear weapons, not electricity used by the general population. The nuclear power debate began in the 1970s and reached its peak in the 1980s when nuclear power was at an all-time high around the globe.
When most people go to turn on their television sets or press their garage door opener, they probably aren’t thinking about the electricity or power used for such activities. But, in the 1970s, the use of power became a focus of political debates and activism when nuclear waste and the environmental impact of nuclear power became cause for concern. Critics of nuclear power believe that the threats of processing, transporting, and storing nuclear waste, as well as the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and the health risks and environmental damage from uranium are too high for nuclear power to be considered a sustainable, clean energy source.
Nuclear power provides about 6% of the world’s energy and 13–14% of the world’s electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear-generated electricity (but note that Japan is now looking to phase out its use of nuclear after the Fukushima disasters). Nuclear power is the primary source of electric power in France. In 2004, 425.8 TWh out of the country’s total production of 540.6 TWh of electricity was from nuclear power (78.8%), the highest percentage in the world. As of 2002, Électricité de France, the country’s main electricity generation and distribution company, manages the country’s 59 nuclear power plants.
In 2011, Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the Nuclear Safety Authority to carry out an ‘open and transparent’ audit of each nuclear plant because of the devastating Fukushima nuclear accidents in Japan. France is deeply dependent on nuclear power, and while 78% of the country is dependent on the power, with the May 2012 election coming, France may undergo the massive task of finding cleaner, safer alternative energy sources. The center-right UMP party supports the extension of the nuclear program, while the opposition Socialist Party has called for an end to the creation of any new nuclear reactors as well as calling for a national debate on an energy transition.
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