Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The French Choice; The Iowan Misapprehension

francois_hollande_referenceEven in the context of a political contest, it’s nice to be reminded how nuclear energy benefits people in the nickel-and-dime sense:

France's electricity bills will rise less over the next two decades if it continues to rely on nuclear power for its energy needs, a government-commissioned report showed on Monday, two months ahead of the country's upcoming presidential election.

Neither President Nicholas Sarkozy (the conservative more-or-less) nor his main opponent in the upcoming election, Francois Hollande (the liberal give or take), wants to shut down the nuclear plants. Hollande wants to close an older facility and reduce the dependence on nuclear energy from 80 to about 50 percent. I’m not sure why, but there it is.

Still, French users could pay around one quarter less at the end of the next decade if the country decides to keep relying on nuclear power for at least 70 percent of its power instead of boosting renewable energy's role and lowering nuclear output to 20 percent of its needs, figures in the report showed.

I think the story means one-quarter less than other European countries not 25 percent less than now. In any event, suspicion about a “convenient” report (for Sarkozy’s view, since he holds the levers of government) is balanced somewhat by the reality that the French do not seem all that eager to tack away from nuclear energy. And anyway, the report isn’t saying anything outlandish – you could say Sarkozy is making a case, but that’s about it.

Currently, Hollande is ahead in polls, but neither he nor Sarkozy are above 50 percent, which makes a second round likely – that happened in 2007, too. The first round of voting comes on April 22 and the run-off on May 6. (Note that Sarkozy has not announced his candidacy yet – the stories I read suggest this is tactical rather than hesitancy, so every poll counts him as in.)

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It looks like Sarkozy is taking that report quite seriously:

Nicolas Sarkozy a décidé de prolonger la durée de vie des centrales nucléaires françaises au-delà de quarante ans pour permettre à l'économie de disposer d'une énergie bon marché, a déclaré dimanche 12 février le ministre de l'industrie Eric Besson, précisant que le chef de l'Etat a demandé aux opérateurs "de procéder à tous les efforts de maintenance, de recherche des plus hauts standards de sécurité et de sûreté, pour faire en sorte que ce parc puisse être prolongé".

Let’s see if my French is up to this:

Nicolas Sarkozy will prolong the lives of French nuclear power plants beyond forty years to allow the economy [I think an American politician would have said “the people”] to have inexpensive energy, said Minister of Industry Eric Besson February 12, with Sarkozy [the chief of state] asking the facility operators "to conduct all maintenance efforts to maintain the highest standards of safety and security so that the lives of the plants can be extended."

A little clumsy, but that does the trick. I reckon this will show up in American papers soon enough.

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Some Iowans are missing the point:

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups are questioning a measure that would help MidAmerican Energy pay for a possible nuclear power plant, arguing that slow-growing Iowa produces significantly more energy than it uses and doesn't need an expensive electricity generator.

Consider that about 9 percent of electricity in Iowa is generated by nuclear energy (at Duane Arnold, to be exact). 72 percent of it is coal-fired. Iowa has done a good job with renewable energy – about 15 percent. So you may say that Iowa has filled the energy coffers, but not in the best possible way.

But there’s an elephant in the room and the new nuclear facility can help push it out. The story almost gets there:

Potthoff said the excess supply in Iowa also likely won't continue for long because expected environmental regulations could limit coal-powered electrical plants at a time when an improving economy will increase demand. Although wind power is important, it's less consistent than coal or nuclear power, she said.

But not quite. Build a nuclear facility, shut down a couple of coal plants – or more, as Iowa seems able to afford it – and it’s your classic win-win.

Potthoff is MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Potthoff.

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Coming from Warner Brothers: The Chernobyl Diaries:

Diaries is set in the city of Prypiat that once housed the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and follows a group of friends who, while vacationing in Europe, find themselves stranded in the abandoned city only to discover that they are not alone.

Presumably, the kids get left there by a tour bus. Whether they will be set upon by giant insects or Hills Have Eyes-style cannibals remains to be seen.

Francois Hollande – and yes, France has pointing politicians.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that although 9% of the electricity generated in Iowa comes from nuclear power, the amount of electricity used by Iowans that is generated from nuclear power may be far greater, perhaps close to double that. MidAmerican has a long term power purchase agreement with the Nebraska Public Power District for half of the output of the Cooper Nuclear Station and owns 25% of Quad Cities Units 1 and 2 (and presumably is entitled to a quarter of their output). While MidAmerican does have service territory in Illinois and Nebraska it primarily serves Iowa.