The solid block of support for nuclear power among French elites is showing signs of strain.
In an unusual development, Parisian newspaper Liberation published two side-by-side articles about French political figures on the right who question nuclear power in the wake of the Italian referendum on new nuclear plants.
French elites of both the right and the left have been nearly monolithic in their support of nuclear power since the oil crises of the 1970s.
Most striking is the statement by the new leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen that nuclear power is a “dangerous form of energy”.
To the chagrin of France’s more mainstream conservatives, Madame Le Pen and her nationalist party has been rising in the polls since she took the reins from her combative father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Even more surprising is Madame Le Pen’s suggestion that the French people-in a sharp jab at French President Nicolas Sarkozy–should be “consulted” on the future of nuclear in France. Le Pen charged that President Sarkozy has not fulfilled his campaign promise to provide the public with a constitutional provision for referendums on such controversial topics as nuclear power as demonstrated in neighboring Italy.
But the Le Pens–father and daughter–and their party have always been on the outside of power, looking in.
Yet potentially more damaging to France’s image as a nuclear superpower is the indictment of the industry by mainstream political insider Corinne Lepage in a new book.
Madame Lepage is a center-right political figure who served as Minister for the Environment in the government of conservative President Jacques Chirac.
She is currently serving as a member of the European Parliament and it is from this perch that she has questioned France’s nuclear choice, calling it a “strategic error” of historic proportions.
In the Liberation interview about her new book “La vérité sur le nucléaire” (The Truth about Nuclear), Madame Lepage cited a litany of damning allegations about the French nuclear industry, such as the ballooning cost of Areva’s Finnish reactors which will have to be borne by French taxpayers.
After taking the industry’s arguments apart piece by piece, Madame Lepage suggests that exiting nuclear power rather than penalizing the economy could in fact lead to reindustrialization.
France, says Madame Lepage, has the best renewable resources in Europe. While France is developing its renewable resources to replace nuclear power, the country would create new industries and jobs like those seen in Germany.
Meanwhile the French nuclear industry could turn its attention to the growing trend toward phasing out nuclear. She proposes that France could become a leader in decommissioning nuclear power plants worldwide.