France vs. USA

Keith Weisenberg
June 26, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: The unit 2 of Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station closed since the accident in 1979. The cooling towers on the left. The spent fuel pool and containment building of the reactor on the right. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

France is mid-sized country in terms of size and population relative to the rest of the globe. The remarkable quality about France is that it makes up for about 17% of the world's total nuclear consumption. [1] France has 58 nuclear reactors set up throughout the country that account for over 77% of the county's total electricity production (17% of that energy is recycled). The main reason for the country's steep reliance on nuclear energy stems from its lack of natural resources. The French have negligible amounts of domestic coal, oil, and natural gas. [2] This renders France highly vulnerable to disturbance in trade agreements and is a in poor position when it comes to negotiating price changes. This was apparent in October of 1973 when The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) implemented an oil embargo. [3] This embargo caused the price of importing oil to increase drastically and caused France to kick its movements towards independence into overdrive. France's response to the oil embargo was a dedication to building many more nuclear plants.


The United States is a large country with a high population. It makes sense that the US is responsible for almost 33% of the world's total nuclear energy consumption. [1] The United States has 30 nuclear reactors that account for about 19.5% of the country's total electricity production. [4] But, only seven of the states in the US get the majority of their energy from nuclear plants. The USA is also the world's largest producer of oil and commercial energy. But, the US is still susceptible to disturbances among import agreements such as the oil crisis of 1973. The oil embargo caused prices of American imports to rapidly increase. [3]

Conclusion: Reasons for the Discrepancies

The fundamental reason for the drastic difference between the drastic differences in the ratio of nuclear output/dependence pertains to the way each country is run along with its beliefs. The defining moment in nuclear energy's history within the United States was the Incident of Three Mile Island (Fig. 1) where a nuclear reactor melted down in Pennsylvania. [5] This led to stricter nuclear plant regulations as well as a severe drop off in public support of the nuclear programs even though the incident had little to no effect on the environment and no noticeable effect to the people within the area. [6] The defining moment in French nuclear history is the oil crisis of 1973. France realized it had no choice but to power forward with the intentions of becoming self-sustaining to immunize itself from such turbulence. Essentially, the fork in the road came about in the 1970s where the United States felt distrust towards nuclear energy while the French felt it was their saving grace. Also related to the issue, the two countries' governments contain many discrepancies even though they both classify as republics. First, the US places a peak value on the voice of the people and the democratic morals of pleasing the majority. A large portion of Americans (poll results varying from 45% - 53%) do not support American investment in nuclear energy mainly due to a lack of trust in their reliability. Those in charge must adhere to the voices of the people in order to remain in their positions or power - truly placing the power in the people. By contrast, France is essentially run by a small, selective clique that makes most decisions for the country. Even though the United States government claims it plans to continue to invest in nuclear energy, it cannot do so unless it has the public support - a problem foreign to France.

© Keith Weisenberg. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016," British Petroleum, June 2016.

[2] M. B. Mbarek, S. Nasreen, and R. Feki, "The Contribution of Nuclear Energy to Economic Growth in France: Short and Long Run", Qual. Quant. 51 219 (2015).

[3] F. Venn, The Oil Crisis (Routledge, 2013).

[4] K. R. Lester, "A Roadmap for US Nuclear Energy Innovation," Issues Sci. Technol. 32, No. 2, Winter 2016).

[5] M. Schneider, A. Froggatt, and S. Thomas, "Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World," Worldwatch Institute, April 2011, pp. 60, 67.

[6] "Risk Management: A Tool for Improving Nuclear Power Plant Performance," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-TECDOC-1209, April 2001.