Nuclear, renewables to help French CO2 reduction goals, Macron says

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he would not follow Germany’s example by phasing out nuclear energy in France because his priority was to cut carbon emissions and shut down polluting coal-fired production.

French President Emmanuel Macron gives a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

“I don’t idolize nuclear energy at all. But I think you have to pick your battle. My priority in France, Europe and internationally is CO2 emissions and (global) warming,” he told France 2 television in an interview.

Macron, who has worked to establish his role as a global leader since his election win in May, presided over a climate summit in Paris last week to breathe new life into a collective effort to fight climate change.

But renewable energy only amounts to a tiny share of French electricity production, which is dominated by nuclear for 75 percent of it.

“Nuclear is not bad for carbon emissions, it’s even the most carbon-free way to produce electricity with renewables,” Macron said.

The 39-year old, who has sought to forge strong ties with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, did not show any enthusiasm for her decision to phase out nuclear energy, one of her landmark policies.

“What did the Germans do when they shut all their nuclear in one go?,” Macron said.

“They developed a lot of renewables but they also massively reopened thermal and coal. They worsened their CO2 footprint, it wasn’t good for the planet. So I won’t do that.”

Macron said he wanted to boost the growth of renewable energy but would wait for the French nuclear watchdog’s opinion before shutting ageing nuclear reactors or upgrading others.

The ASN nuclear regulator said last month it would rule on a potential lifespan extension of France’s 58 nuclear reactors - all operated by state-owned EDF - in 2020-21.

“This is what we’ll base our decisions on,” Macron said. “So it’ll be rational. So in the face of that, we’ll have to shut some plants. Maybe we’ll have to modernize others,” he said.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Adrian Croft