“We have to act quickly, and we have to be practical.” Around twenty ministers are in Paris on Thursday at the invitation of the French government and the OECD, to work to accelerate the return of nuclear power to rich countries and push international institutions to finance it.
Japan, Canada, United States, South Korea, United Kingdom, members of the European Union: Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Sweden… are represented, but also industrial giants of the sector, from French EDF to American Westinghouse through the Korean KHNP and the Japanese Mitsubishi.
While a “window of opportunity” is emerging for the nuclear sector, “we must be practical, but we must move quickly”, pleaded at the opening of this conference the director general of the Energy Agency Nuclear Power of the OECD (NEA), William D. Magwood.
“Nuclear energy is a major asset both for our energy security but also for our climate commitments” of carbon neutrality by 2050, insisted the French Minister of Energy Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher, at a time when the atom is experiencing a renewed interest from several countries, against a backdrop of climate crisis and energy tensions exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.
A ministerial declaration is expected to underline the “indispensable” nature, according to its signatories, of the nuclear “tool” in the energy transition — CO emissions.2 per kWh of nuclear power are low, according to Paris.
The call should also “encourage multilateral development banks, international financial institutions and regional organizations, for example the EU, to finance nuclear energy”.
Before being an industrial alliance, it is first of all “a political alliance”, we emphasize on the Paris side.
Big challenges for the “return of nuclear power”
France, the most nuclearized country in the world per capita (56 reactors for 68 million inhabitants), has become the European spearhead of the relaunch of the atom, at the head of a “European nuclear alliance” to weigh in the difficult negotiations on the reform of the EU electricity market.
The French minister also met her Italian counterpart on Thursday morning, at a time when Italy, having left nuclear power after Chernobyl (1986), could reconsider the nuclear option.
Bringing together Eastern European countries in particular, “this alliance also wants to build industrial cooperation to end the dependence” of some on Russia, according to Paris.
Shortly before the opening of the Paris conference, a dozen Greenpeace activists displayed a banner on the roof of the OECD building, to denounce “a climate diversion”. The police dislodged them, calmly, just before the start of the meeting, cutting their ties with pliers before having to carry them to evacuate them.
“We are here to denounce the greenwashing of France which wants to organize a massive relaunch of nuclear power […] This operation does not aim to save the climate but to save the nuclear industry,” Pauline Boyer, nuclear campaign manager at Greenpeace, told AFP.
“We are witnessing a return to nuclear power in the world,” Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), another OECD agency, told the press in mid-September, citing Japan, Canada, Finland, Sweden, China, and the United States.
According to the Nuclear Energy Agency, global nuclear capacities should be doubled or even tripled by 2050 to meet carbon neutrality objectives, by combining existing reactors, new generation reactors but also small modular reactors (SMR), currently being designed.
But relaunching the atom, which fell into disgrace after the disaster at the Japanese Fukushima power plant (2011), involves many challenges: building training courses, a supply chain, finding financing suitable for these long and costly investments – while low-carbon energy must increase massively, starting this decade, to limit global warming.
In 2022, 7.9 GW of nuclear capacity came into service, an increase of 40% in new installations compared to 2021. Most of the construction starts in recent years have come from China, for its domestic market, and Russia for several countries.