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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 26, 2003) Some months after the end of the official French debate on energy policy, a "Comité des Sages" (Wise Men's Committee) has presented its conclusions on 12 September.(1) The Wise Men's Committee was set up to monitor the energy debate, which was held in the beginning of 2003. The committee members could not reach consensus on the future of nuclear energy and draw their conclusions in two separate reports.

(593.5544) Réseau Sortir du Nucléaire / WISE Amsterdam - The committee consisted of engineer Pierre Castillon, journalist Mac Lesggy and philosopher/sociologist Edgar Morin. Morin came out with the separate report to express his doubts about new investments in nuclear energy: "because existing reactors won't be obsolete until 2020, because it is not sure that the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) can be the solution for the future, because terrorism and climatic disorders made us discover new risks and weaknesses with nuclear energy, it appears useless to decide on a new EPR plant before 2010. The current uncertainty doesn't ensure that EPR, designed in the 1980s, would be the technology of the future. And this time can be used for reflection, to favor sustainable energies and to look for other types of solutions."(2) (3)

Morin is also worried that the official debate is used to justify a fixed energy program for the next decades, when an energy strategy should be more convenient to stay flexible in front of the unexpected.(4)

The two other reporters, Castillon and Lesggy were less firm: "The various, discordant, calendars [presented during the debate] didn't clearly demonstrate the urgency of building EPR. Nevertheless, all energy sources will be requested in the future and France must save its technological leadership with nuclear."(5) (6)

All three 'wise men' agreed that strong priority (with research and development) must be given to energy savings/efficiency (in housing and transports) and renewable energies (solar, wind, bio-mass) that are generating, except for hydro power, only 1% of electricity in France.

Next to their conclusions about the future of energy policy in France, the committee also reviewed the energy debate itself. About the official debate, the point of view of Morin is quite interesting for us. He recognizes that: it was a confidential debate because the political parties, the media and the public opinion didn't feel very much concerned; those who expressed themselves the most were mainly truckers and railway corporations; and also powerful oil and car lobbies; at the beginning, the internet site of the debates was too favorable to nuclear energy; the only echoes in the French society were the alternative debates initiated by ecological groups.(7) Castillon and Lesggy concluded that information on nuclear safety and economics was incomplete and partly confusing during the debate. They said they regretted that the debate hadn't given sufficient treatment to the important issues of reprocessing, MOX fuel and plutonium management and complained that long-term nuclear waste policy "remains hostage to ideological quarrels".

In general, all 'wise men' lamented a lack of precise, quantitative information to support future decisions.(8)

New EPR?
At the same day of the wise men's report, industry minister Nicole Fontaine told she will decide on a new EPR, at the latest, in the beginning of 2004: "to be able to integrate it in the new law on energy that is on the way".(9)

In the meantime, she asked Areva, Electricité de France (EDF), safety authorities and the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA) to "complement our information". According to French news agency AFP she had asked "to deepen their reflections on the advantages of EPR in order to decide with clear elements".(10) (11)

In other words: "Please, convince me more; so that I can justify more easily your wishes in front of the population." It is not strange that many anti-nuclear groups boycotted the official debate because they believed that the government had already made up its mind to build a new EPR.(12) (13)

New energy law
A new law on energy choices will be adopted before the end of this year. A draft law is expected this autumn and a final version be sent to the parliament before the end of the year. The new law will contain strategies on energy efficiency, diversification and the future share of each energy source. Measures would include tax incentives for renewables, efficiency standards for heating of new and existing buildings and an obligation for EDF to promote energy savings.(14) (15)

And the new EPR…….?

[This article was written by André Larivière of Réseau Sortir du nucléaire and editted by WISE Amsterdam]

(1) Report du Comité des Sages, in French, 12 September 2003,
(2) Le Figaro, 13 September 2003
(3) Nucleonics Week, 18 September 2003
(4) Le Figaro, 13 September 2003
(5) AFP, 12 September 2003
(6) Nucleonics Week, 18 September 2003
(7) Report du Comité des Sages, in French, 12 September 2003
(8) Nucleonics Week, 18 September 2003
(9) AFP, 12 September 2003
(10) Nucleonics Week, 18 September 2003
(11) AFP, 12 September 2003
(12) WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 581.5478: "French 'nuclear new year' begins with energy debate", 17 January 2003
(13) WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 587.5516: "French energy debate: 'false' debate", 16 May 2003
(14) press release energy debate website, 19 June 2003,
(15) Nucleonics Week, 18 September 2003

Contact: André Larivière at Réseau Sortir du nucléaire, 9, rue Dumenge, 69004 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 4 7828 2922
Fax: +33 4 7207 7004