For a long time, it seemed that France, Europe’s leading nuclear power producer, will seek to decrease the share of nuclear in its energy matrix. The 2015 Energy Transition for Green Growth law stipulated that by 2025 the share of nuclear would have to drop from the current 75percent (the highest rate in Europe) to 50 percent, whilst capping maximum production capacity at 63.2 GW, i.e. roughly the level where it stands currently. However, coping with the challenges of energy supply proved to be too complex to cut down on France’s traditional buttress, nuclear power – in fact, during Francois Hollande’s tenure not a single nuclear reactor what shut down. Renaming the Energy Ministry into the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition did not help – with Nicolas Hulot stepping down, nuclear seems to burst back onto France’s energy policy agenda.
France’s nuclear romance started out as a post-1973 crisis realization of the nation’s scarce indigenous resources – it was never really powerful in terms of oil and gas production (currently it produces 16 kbpd of oil and roughly 0.5 BCm of gas on an annual basis but plans to phase out all hydrocarbon production by 2040), the only energy sector it had genuine hands-on expertise in was coal, which employed 150 000 at that time. Nuclear seemed like a perfect match – it was low-cost, carbon-free and France could make use of its Francophone ties with countries filled with uranium, such as Niger. Up until the late 2000s, despite falling reactor construction rates France boasted of the energy independence it reached thanks to developing nuclear as well as its relatively low electricity prices (lower than all of its neighboring countries).