April 26, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ETApril 26, 2022April 26, 2022
PARIS — On the windswept coast of Flamanville, an industrial city in northwest France facing the choppy waters of the English Channel, a soaring concrete dome houses one of the world’s most powerful nuclear reactors.
But when this hulking giant will begin supplying power to France’s electrical grid is anyone’s guess.
Construction is a full decade behind schedule and 12 billion euros, or $13 billion, over budget. Plans to start operations this year have been pushed back yet again, to 2024. And the problems at Flamanville are not unique. Finland’s newest nuclear power plant, which started operating last month, was supposed to be completed in 2009.
“Putin’s invasion redefined our energy security considerations in Europe,” said Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency. He added, “I would expect that nuclear may well make a step back in Europe and elsewhere as a result of the energy insecurity.”
But turning a nuclear revival into a reality is fraught with problems.
The dash to find ready alternatives to Russian fuel has magnified a political divide in Europe over nuclear power, as a bloc of pronuclear countries led by France, Europe’s biggest atomic producer, pushes for a buildup while Germany and other like-minded countries oppose it, citing the dangers of radioactive waste. A recent European Commission plan for reducing dependence on Russia pointedly left nuclear power off a list of energy sources to be considered.
A quarter of all electricity in the European Union comes from nuclear power produced in a dozen countries from an aging fleet that was mostly built in the 1980s. France, with 56 reactors, produces more than half the total.
Two of Germany’s largest energy companies said they were open to postponing the shutdown to help ease the nation’s reliance on Russia. But the Green party, part of Berlin’s governing coalition, ruled out continuing to operate them — let alone reopening three nuclear stations that closed in December.
“We decided for reasons that I think are very good and right that we want to phase them out,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Parliament this month, adding that the idea of delaying Germany’s exit from nuclear power was “not a good plan.”