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France vows to build new nuclear reactors to meet climate goals

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
A concrete-sealed warehouse for radioactive waste storage in the Aube region of eastern France
A concrete-sealed warehouse for radioactive waste storage in the Aube region of eastern France   -   Copyright  Francois Mori/AP

France has vowed to build more nuclear reactors in order to be carbon neutral by 2050.

President Emmanuel Macron, making the announcement in a nationwide address on Tuesday, said it would also help the country achieve "energy independence".

Unlike many of its European neighbours, which are moving away from nuclear, France will build its first new reactors in decades.

Paris had previously said it wouldn’t build new reactors until the completion of a new reactor at Flamanville in northern France, which has suffered a decade of delays and huge cost overruns.

France already has 56 operational reactors and derives about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy, according to the World Nuclear Association.

“To guarantee France’s energy independence, to guarantee our country’s electricity supply, and to reach our goals -- notably carbon neutrality in 2050 -- we will for the first time in decades revive the construction of nuclear reactors in our country, and continue to develop renewable energy,” Macron said in a televised address.

He was speaking as climate negotiators in Glasgow debated how to speed up efforts against climate change, and amid ongoing worries in Europe over rising energy prices.

Europe is especially dependent on global gas and oil producers, including Russia, but France is Europe’s most nuclear-dependent country, getting around 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy.

Macron did not give any further details of the plans, but his government is expected to announce the construction of up to six new pressurised-water reactors within the coming weeks.

Nuclear power under debate

Nuclear energy produces much lower emissions than coal, oil or gas, but nuclear plants are very expensive to build and produce radioactive waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.

Germany responded to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan by accelerating its national exit scheme for reactors.

Politicians are divided over whether nuclear energy should be included in global plans to reduce carbon emissions.

Greenpeace criticised Macron’s announcement, saying the plan to build new reactors was "disconnected from reality," pointing to the problems with Flamanville.

EDF, France’s largely state-owned electricity company, said it was “very sincerely pleased” with Macron’s statement.

"EDF has worked a lot with the nuclear industry to be able to say that we are ready. We are ready," its CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy said at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.