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France is at a crossroads in energy and security policies. Its reliance on nuclear power for the generation of more than three-fourths of its electricity has, like in the United States, revealed, more than ever, the vulnerabilities after the attacks of September 11, 2001. And with the rest of Europe and the world, it is also at a crossroads in deciding how far it is willing to go to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to reduce the severity of human-induced global climate change.
These questions have a special poignancy in France, which decided to lean heavily on nuclear power in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. The Arab oil embargo against the United States demonstrated the vulnerability of France to disruption in oil supplies. But the events of September 11 have now pointed up the vulnerabilities of France’s heavy dependence on nuclear energy and also its decision to use plutonium as an energy source. France’s plutonium energy sector is also a source of global proliferation vulnerability. France is the most important country in perpetuating the use of this nuclear-weapons usable material in the commercial sector.
Nuclear energy has allowed France to diversify its energy supply, but it has not greatly reduced France’s oil-related vulnerability since oil is the principal fuel for France’s transportation sector, and the country would literally come to a standstill without it.