PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Tuesday postponed a long-held target to reduce the share of nuclear energy in France’s electricity generation.
Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot said it was not realistic to cut nuclear energy’s share in the power mix to 50 percent by 2025 from 75 percent now and said doing so in a hurry would increase France’s CO2 emissions, endanger the security of power supply and put jobs at risk.
He did not set a new deadline, but said that over the next year the government would draw up a “pluri-annual energy programme” to reach the 50 percent target “as soon as possible”.
“It will be difficult to maintain the target of reducing the share of nuclear to 50 percent by 2025,” Hulot told reporters following a cabinet meeting.
Hulot said that while the timing is delayed for now, in a year’s time the government would have a clear programme based on rational criteria to decide which reactors to close and when.
In 2015, the previous government of Socialist Francois Hollande had voted an energy transition law which set a target of reducing the share of nuclear in the power mix to 50 percent by 2025 from the current 75 percent. But Hollande had taken no concrete steps towards closing any reactors.
Centrist Macron, elected in May, had promised to respect this target and Hulot, France’s best-known environmentalist, said in July France might have to close up to 17 of its 58 reactors by 2025 to achieve the target.
Widely seen as the guardian of the Macron government’s green credentials, the popular Hulot - a former television documentary maker turned environmentalist - had in recent months repeatedly said France needed to close several nuclear plants.
But he received little public support from Macron, a strong supporter of nuclear, or Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, a former employee of state-owned reactor builder Areva.
Two weeks before the government was formed in mid-May, a source close to Macron told Reuters he was considering delaying the target for reducing France’s reliance on nuclear.
State-owned utility EDF, the world’s biggest operator of nuclear plants, has long said it made no sense to shut down functioning reactors and instead wanted to extend the lifespan of its nuclear fleet from 40 to at least 50 years.
EDF shares were up 1.2 percent after Hulot’s announcement, outperforming a flat French bourse.
EDF stock had plunged as much as 7 percent on the day Hulot was appointed environment minister on the expectation that he would push for less nuclear and more renewables. nL8N1IJ43S]
Hulot, who had made a failed bid to become the green candidate in the 2012 presidential election, had been courted by both Hollande and his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy to become environment minister.
Hulot told French daily Le Monde last month that he had given himself a year to see whether he could reform French energy and agricultural policies.
Greenpeace said Hulot had already shown weakness in fighting fossil fuel and was now jeopardising France’s energy transition.
“He should be a bulwark against the oil and nuclear lobbies,” the NGO said in a statement.
Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Michel Rose; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Edmund Blair