Three-quarters of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power, which is a higher proportion than any other country in the world. In France alone, 220,000 people are hired to work in the energy industry. Because of this, French nuclear companies have been seen as leaders at the forefront of developing and operating uranium fueled reactors around the world. But recently, it was discovered that new power plants intended to showcase the energy industry’s latest technology are now extremely behind schedule and over budget. Problems at one site have raised doubts that it will even be completed.
This is not only a French problem: there has been more of a recent focus on clean energy due to the increased worries about the damage of fossil fuels. Although the power plants include nuclear reactors that are a low-carbon power source, this environmental benefit could be overshadowed if there is a great concern about safety and radioactive waste. After the Fukushima incident in 2011, Germany and Switzerland have all together eliminated nuclear power as an energy source.
Still, there are many countries that have few alternatives better than adopting nuclear power, and if the French industry fails to provide after six decades of global leadership, other inexperienced providers from China and Russia will willingly step in to help. The current French government is so concerned about the recent industry performance that the President is expected to soon announce an entire industry overhaul, which will aim to secure financial footing and reorganize company structures.
Areva, a company that makes reactors, announced last Thursday that it would cut major costs that would trim up to 6,000 jobs of the workforce of 45,000, with 4,000 of these being French jobs. Areva is also looking to build a nuclear plant in China but has yet to do so since the decision was made in 1983. The China National Nuclear Corporation informed reporters that they too would be interested in making a financial investment. A key concern is that although opportunities may arise for other countries to provide nuclear energy, they do not have the experience of building reactors previously and this could lead to safety issues.
The French government owns 29% of Areva, and is thus dedicated to finding solutions. The original plan involved no job cuts, and the government suggested a possible merger with the utility Electricite de France. However, Areva is set to cut jobs, salaries, and work time in the near future. The plan also involves reducing investments and overhead costs to boost productivity. Evidently, the situation in France is tough: demand for nuclear fuel has decreased in combination with uranium prices because of Japan’s decision to idle its reactors. In France, unions are resisting the impending job cuts and possible merger, stating that France’s expertise and leading role could be diminished by these actions.