France's Much-Vaunted Nuclear Program Draws Fire The French nuclear energy program, which provides about two-thirds of the nation's electricity, is much admired and held as a model of energy self-sufficiency by some observers. Critics say, however, the program is deeply flawed, with major cost over-runs and safety problems that have been covered up by the French government.
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France's Much-Vaunted Nuclear Program Draws Fire

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France's Much-Vaunted Nuclear Program Draws Fire

France's Much-Vaunted Nuclear Program Draws Fire

France's Much-Vaunted Nuclear Program Draws Fire

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The French nuclear energy program, which provides about two-thirds of the nation's electricity, is much admired and held as a model of energy self-sufficiency by some observers. Critics say, however, the program is deeply flawed, with major cost over-runs and safety problems that have been covered up by the French government.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

But as Eleanor Beardsley reports, the cost of the French system may be higher than the government is willing to admit.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: France made a strategic national decision to invest in nuclear power to lessen its dependence upon foreign energy supplies after the first oil shocks of the 1970s.

BERTRAND BARRE: It was a major investment funded mostly by banks all over the world. But, in fact, the government didn't put money. All the French government did at the time was giving its warranty.

BEARDSLEY: That's Bertrand Barre. He's a scientific advisor to AREVA, the French state-owned nuclear conglomerate. Apart from being low in carbon emissions, Barre also says that nuclear power is cheaper than its competitors once you've amortized the cost of building the plant.

BARRE: Nuclear power is costly in capital expenses, so you have to put a lot of money up front. But during operation, it's by far the least costly of all base load power supply.

BEARDSLEY: Barre says that's why France is expanding its nuclear capacity and building a new generation of reactors. Known as the European Pressurized Reactor or EPR, these state-of-the-art third-generation reactors will eventually replace the world's second-generation reactors as they expire.

EPR: two in China, one in Finland and the other in Normandy. If all goes well, French state-owned AREVA will build more EPRs in China, the U.S., Britain and India.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

BEARDSLEY: Yannick Rousselet, head of Greenpeace's anti-nuclear campaign, spoke to NPR while he was chained to the rails.

YANNICK ROUSSELET: (Through Translator) We are forced to physically act if we want to stop the export of nuclear waste to Russia. And we have managed to disrupt their shipments this way.

BEARDSLEY: But leaving the safety argument aside, Yves Marignac, Paris director of WISE, a consultancy group associated with anti-nuclear lobby, disputes the economic case for nuclear expansion. He says the new plants in Finland and Normandy are way past schedule and way over budget.

YVES MARIGNAC: The reactor that is being built in France was politically decided on the basis of the cost of 28 Euros per megawatt hour, that was some five years ago. The reactor is not finished yet. But the projected cost is already at 54 Euro per megawatt hour, which is almost doubled the cost that was used to say this is competitive, let's go for it.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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