An Overview of Nuclear Energy in France

Emanuel Pinilla
February 17, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: The Dampierre power plant, located south of Paris in central France. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

France is amongst the top economic powers in the world and it has considerable political influence on the international level. With over 63 million inhabitants, France has the second largest population in the EU behind Germany. [1] Nuclear energy has long been a staple of Frances energy contribution and has led to significant interest in exploring the possibilities of nuclear energy. France has long been one of the most successful countries with respect to nuclear energy and this is exhibited by their merits. With 77% of the electricity in the country coming from nuclear power and accounting for 47% of all nuclear electricity in the EU, France has demonstrated the impact nuclear electricity may have. [1,2] France has built nuclear power plants throughout the country, including the Dampierre Plant seen in Fig. 1 and the Cattenom Plant seen in Fig. 2 - making the presence and success of nuclear energy very strong. Despite the success France has had with nuclear energy, safety concerns have risen over the past years as well as anti-nuclear protests which have led France to begin transitioning away from nuclear energy as the public has begun to change their stance on the idea of long term nuclear power in favor of more renewable methods of energy production and because of the government fully controlling the nuclear energy production process and not disclosing information to the public. [3,4] Policies have been set in place to further regulate the nuclear industry and have aimed to decrease the amount of nuclear power plants in the future. [5]

Strong Nuclear Presence

Nuclear energy has long been a staple of France and has had a significant impact on France. France's economy was severely affected by oil shocks in the 1970s and it was because of this that the French Government had decided to turn to nuclear power in efforts to restructure the countrys energy dependency on oil as well as to gain energy independence. [6] This has led to the development of a strong nuclear presence in France and decreasing CO2 emissions in France dating back to 1980 to 2000. France contributes the least CO2 out of major European powers as nuclear energy is envisaged to contribute to only 6% of Global CO2 emissions come 2050. [7] France's nuclear industry has been consistently supported by the government and policies and has set up an impermeable institutional setup to assure that nuclear power remains one of France's stable means of energy production. [8]

Issues with Nuclear in France

Fig. 2: The Cattenom nuclear power plant, located in the northeast of France. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Despite the significant positive impact which nuclear energy has had on France's energy production, France has had issues in relation to nuclear energy. These issues include health risks, lack of communication with the public and civilian protests. One case of nuclear energy leading to significant health risks in France was the case of increased children and young adults with Leukemia living within the vicinity of nuclear plants and nuclear waste centers. A nationwide included 2,753 cases diagnosed in mainland France over 2002-2007 and 30,000 contemporaneous population controls. The last addresses were geocoded and located around the 19 nuclear power plants. [9] This issue calls into question the process of nuclear waste management in France as well as how much the public knows regarding nuclear plants and waste management. Another key issue is that the nuclear process is controlled by a centralized institution, the government, from start to finish keeping civilians unaware of the ongoing aspects of nuclear energy. Despite efforts from the French government to ensure that nuclear is not a political controversy, anti-nuclear protesters have been present in France since the 1980s. [10,11]

Transition Away

Due to issues with nuclear energy in France, the future of nuclear energy in France is not clear. Public opinion regarding nuclear energy production has begun to shift and this is largely due to how the government manages all information regarding nuclear energy and keeps the public in the dark. [10] This has led to growing protests regarding the government protection of the nuclear industry. [3] France has also passed a law to decrease their amount of nuclear energy production to 25% by 2050 in favor of promoting more renewable forms of energy production. [11] The lofty goal of 25% has been called into question and reports have fluctuated reporting that nuclear production will only decrease to 50% by 2050. [4,12]


In conclusion, the presence of nuclear energy in France has been strong in the past but there is currently a transition away from nuclear energy scheduled for 2050. Nuclear energy has been extremely imperative to the energy production of France. Initially starting as a means to gain energy independence and reduce CO2 emissions, the nuclear energy program in France grew quickly and has resulted in 58 nuclear plants, like the Dampierre Plant seen in Fig. 1 and the Cattenom Plant seen in Fig. 2, and these 58 nuclear plants contribute to nearly 80% of the country's energy production. [1] Despite the immense presence nuclear energy has in France, issues regarding safety and government transparency with the people have led to protests against the heavy nuclear presence. [3,9] Public opinion and policy have begun to transition away from nuclear energy and have turned their attention towards more renewable forms of energy with efforts to reduce the amount of nuclear energy production to between 25% and 50% come 2050. [4,12]

© Emanuel Pinilla. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] M. Schneider, "Nuclear Power in France: Beyond the Myth," Greens-EFA Group in European Parliament, December 2008.

[2] M. Hlaing, "The Push to Cut Nuclear Energy in France," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2017.

[3] D. Rucht, "Campaigns, Skirmishes and Battles: Anti-Nuclear Movements in the USA, France and West Germany," Organ. Environ. 4, 193 (1990).

[4] N. Maizi and E. Assoumou, "Future Prospects for Nuclear Power in France," Appl. Energy 136, 849 (2014).

[5] C. Mathieu, "France: Reducing Nuclear Dominance and Promoting a Low-Carbon Energy System," in Sustainable Energy in the G20, ed by S. Roehrkasten, S. Thielges and R. Quitzow, Institute for Advanced Sustaintable studies, December 2016, p. 45.

[6] J. B Ang, "CO2 Emissions, Energy Consumption, and Output in France," Energy Policy 35, 4772 (2007).

[7] N. Apergis et. al., "On the Causal Dynamics Between Emissions, Nuclear Energy, Renewable Energy, and Economic Growth," Ecol. Econ. 69, 2255 (2010).

[8] M. Delmas and B. Heiman, "Government Credible Commitment to the French and American Nuclear Power Industries," J. Policy Anal. Manage. 20, 433 (2001).

[9] C. Sermage-Faure et. al., "Childhood Leukemia Around French Nuclear Power Plants - The Geocap Study, 2002-2007," Int. J. Cancer 131, E769 (2012).

[10] F. R. Baumgartner, "Independent and Politicized Policy Communities: Education and Nuclear Energy in France and in the United States," Governance 2, 42 (1989).

[11] "ADEME Energy Transition Scenarios 2030/2050," French Environment and Energy Management Agency [Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Énergie], May 2014.

[12] G. Dubois and J. P. Ceron, "Tourism/Leisure Greenhouse Gas Emissions Forecasts for 2050: Factors for Change in France," J. Sustain. Tour. 14, 172 (2006).