Learning from FranceFrench President Emmanuel Macron vowed to do away with nuclear reactors at the beginning of his term in 2017. But last week, he proclaimed that the country will continue to need nuclear energy in the age of decarbonization. He pledged spending of 1.4 billion trillion won ($1.2 billion) to develop small modular reactors (SMRs) by 2030. The budget is greater than France’s investment in semiconductors. As a result, the country’s plan to reduce the weight of nuclear power in energy sourcing to 50 percent from the current 75 percent by 2035 is expected to change.
Macron’s beliefs have not changed overnight. Last year, he emphasized that our environmental future relies on nuclear power and that nuclear energy would have to be a pillar in energy composition during the transition to renewables. His thoughts changed upon examining the energy reality.
Before Macron’s announcement, 10 members of the European Union called for inclusion of nuclear energy in their future plans. In a joint publication, the ministers of energy and economy argued that Europe needs nuclear energy as it is “an affordable, stable, and independent energy source” and “essential” to address climate challenges.
The pivot in favor of nuclear energy has been panning out in North America too. Canada has been encouraging nuclear energy. The Democratic Party of the United States, which was critical of nuclear energy, is reexamining its stance. Japan has reactivated its reactors after suspending them after the Fukushima meltdown. The world is adding nuclear power instead of reducing it.
South Korea remains out of sync due to the stubbornness of the Moon Jae-in administration. Achieving carbon neutrality entirely through renewables without a nuclear power backup is nearly impossible. Europe is now suffering energy crises due to spikes in gas prices from higher reliance on natural gas amid limitations from water and wind power sourcing. It is an irony that South Korea, armed with the world’s best nuclear reactor technology, is trying to achieve carbon neutrality without nuclear power.
Nuclear energy may not be the best solution. But humanity will have to rely on nuclear power for a period of time. South Korea is advanced in the development of the small module reactors France is keen to develop. When SMRs are commercialized, the risk of a mass-scale nuclear reactor accident can be lessened.
The Moon administration’s nuclear phase-out policy has backfired. During the presidential election, the phase-out policy must be reexamined through public debate.