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France and Loans, Sweden and Polls

OB-HT929_sarkoz_D_20100308083305 French President Nicholas Sarkozy wants you to know:

I do not understand why international financial institutions and development banks do not finance civil nuclear energy projects," Mr. Sarkozy said. "The current situation means that countries are condemned to rely on more costly energy that causes greater pollution."

So true. And happily, Sarkozy’s in a position to do something about it:

The French president said he would propose to change that situation. "The World Bank, the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] and the other development banks must make a wholehearted commitment to finance such projects," he said.

France knows its beans when it comes to nuclear energy, since it generates 80% of its electricity that way. So Sarkozy might be able to get the ball rolling here – of course, tight lending remains the watchword all over, but perhaps the European Union would benefit from American-style loan guarantees.

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This caught us by surprise:

Separately, Mr. Sarkozy said he wants to boost nuclear expertise through expanding training opportunities. "I have decided to step up our efforts by creating an International Nuclear Energy Institute that will include an International Nuclear Energy School," Mr. Sarkozy said.

The iNEI may sound like an Apple-branded nuclear plant but color us flattered.

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Who would most want to use Sweden as a nuclear poster child, the nuclear energy industry or groups that dislike nuclear energy. Sweden gets a bit under half of its electricity from the atom, so it isn’t quite as entrenched there as in France, and the country has only recently turned away a ban on new construction – although new reactors can only be built on existing sites. (The ban was by referendum, so nuclear became very unpopular, in this instance in the shadow of Chernobyl.)

So a new poll provides at least a few answers:

The poll showed that 52% of Swedes support the continued use of nuclear energy, 30% support the replacement of Sweden's current fleet of power reactors when they have reached the end of their operating lives and 22% think that additional new reactors should be built.

So – a mixed bag, with nuclear just over the magic 50% number. To nuclear advocates, this can only be construed as a net good, as it shows a strong rebound after what must have been notable disapproval when the ban passed in 1980.

The rest needs more numbers and slightly better explication (or we’d need to speak Swedish better to parse it ourselves). As is, we’re not sure the second two numbers are subsets of the 52%. They wouldn’t seem so, but they add together right.

SKGS president Kenneth Eriksson commented, "Although the study was conducted at a time when nuclear power was challenged, following disruptions and high electricity prices, support for nuclear power is strong." He added, "It is reasonable to assume that the support would have been even higher in a more normal year."

If so, perhaps the 2011 poll will show better numbers – but, frankly, we wouldn’t expect Eriksson to say anything different about this one, and his words do suggest disappointment. “Nuclear energy - disruptions and high electricity prices” is not a very good slogan and may not be – is even likely not to be – due to nuclear energy.  (We doubt it could get to 52% in that case.)

The conclusion? Sweden may not be the best go-to place to prove one thing or another, at least from a PR point-of-view. Nuclear energy has majority support and Swedes want to go forward with it, but after that, it’s hard to interpret the tepid numbers except perhaps as soft support. Eriksson might be onto something, though, so it may be worth tabling the discussion until next year to see where the trend goes.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy

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