atw 2018-02


atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 2 ı February



Links to reference


President Macron

interview: http://

Trump on Iran: http://

UK statement on




John Shepherd

nuclear 24

41a Beoley Road West

St George’s

Redditch B98 8LR,

United Kingdom

Playing Politics with Nuclear

is All Part of the Game

John Shepherd

If a week is a long time in politics – a statement attributed to former British prime minister Harold Wilson – then what

about a month, or several months? Just eight months ago, Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France. Among

his portfolio of political pledges was one to respect reductions in the country’s nuclear park set out by his predecessor,

Francois Hollande.

Hollande’s administration had established an energy

transition law which set a target of reducing the share of

nuclear in France’s electricity mix to 50 % by 2025 from

around 75 %.

Fast forward to November 2017 and Macron’s environment

minister, Nicolas Hulot, admitted that this could not

be done – at least in the timeframe envisaged – without

pushing up CO2 emissions, endangering security of power

supply and the not-so-insignificant matter of risking

thousands of jobs. Instead, Hulot said the government

would come up with a more “realistic” target.

Now move forward into early 2018 and France has

signed a deal for closer cooperation in the development of

civil nuclear with the China National Nuclear Corporation

(CNNC). The agreement, signed by Framatome and CNNC

during Macron’s visit to Beijing in January, also renewed a

contract under which Framatome will supply nuclear fuel

components to CNNC.

As Macron’s visit came to a close, he issued a joint statement

with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to express

“their high appreciation of the active cooperation between

the two countries in the field of civilian nuclear energy and

support a deepening of cooperation in the entire nuclear


Now this was indeed good news. France has had more

than its fair share of ups and downs in the state-backed

nuclear sector in recent years. But it begs the question, why

would Macron want to expand civil nuclear activities in

cooperation with an overseas partner if, back home, the

goal is to reduce the reliance on nuclear?

The answer is politics. As Macron was quoted telling

France 2 television in an interview last December: “I don’t

idolise nuclear energy at all. But I think you have to pick

your battle. My priority in France, Europe and internationally

is CO 2 emissions and (global) warming.”

A leader who certainly does not shy away from battles is

US president Donald Trump, who has also had nuclear

power in his sights – but he too gives mixed messages on


On the domestic front, President Trump has been

outspoken in his support for the use of civil nuclear energy

as indeed he has for rejuvenating his country’s coal

industry. However, proposals that paved the way for the US

to offer incentives to power plants such as coal and nuclear

in a bid to improve the resilience of the nation's power grid,

were recently rejected by federal energy regulators.

But Trump’s reason for backing nuclear does not appear

to be linked to a desire to help the climate – or maybe it

does – depending it seems on his temperament from one

day to the next. You will recall that he pulled the US out of

the Paris climate accord reached on his predecessor’s


But then a few weeks ago Trump said the US could

go “go back” into the Paris deal. “We could conceivably go

back in... I feel very strongly about the environment,” the

president said during a joint news conference with

Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg.

In a related move, Trump has demanded that European

allies agree to rewriting a deal struck with Iran in 2015 –

which lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran

limiting its nuclear ambitions beyond power generation –

otherwise he said the US would pull out of the deal in the

coming months, effectively “killing it”.

The UK is also attempting a balancing act on matters

nuclear. The government has confirmed Britain will exit

Euratom at the same time as it withdraws from membership

of the European Union on 29 March 2019.

Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and

industrial strategy, told parliament the government’s

“No.1 priority is continuity for the nuclear sector”. Clark

said: “It is vitally important that our departure from the EU

does not jeopardise this success, and it is in the interests of

both the EU and the UK that our relationship should

continue to be as close as possible.”

Tom Greatrex, chief executive officer of the UK's Nuclear

Industry Association, warned that even with a suitable

transition being negotiated for Britain’s exit from the EU

there “remains much work for the government to do

to prevent the significant disruption that industry is

concerned about.”

Greatrex is of course correct. The UK has barely limped

through the first phase of talks relating to Brexit and time

is not on the side of either party. So for a minister to be

talking about leaving Euratom – while at the same time

continuing to enjoy the benefits that Euratom brings the

UK – is surprising to say the least.

Of course all these political machinations could be

applied to any sector or policy and in any country. But the

nuclear industry has long accepted that it can be used as a

political football, to be kicked into goal or off the pitch

completely depending on the situation at hand.

I am reminded of a quotation from Otto von Bismarck,

the ‘Iron Chancellor’, who said: “Politics is the art of the

possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.”

No political leader wants the lights going off and

hurting homes, hospitals and businesses while they are in

charge. They also don’t want to be seen as responsible for

driving up unemployment.

In terms of nuclear, whether cheerleaders for the

technology or not, as the French president said: “You have

to pick your battle.” The nuclear industry is all too familiar

with fighting battles – defending itself from attack while

quietly going about its task of safely supplying clean

electricity to power-hungry grids around the world.

Our industry therefore has power in the political sense

too, but with power comes responsibility – nuclear leaders

know that only too well and now is as good as time as ever

to lead by example.

Nuclear Today

Playing Politics with Nuclear is All Part of the Game ı John Shepherd

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