French legislative elections: the promise of a lively debate on nuclear power

Following the second round of French legislative elections, the presidential party only obtained a relative majority in the National Assembly and will have to negotiate with the opposition parties. Therefore, the Assembly will have to work on future nuclear projects in a complex political context. 

With the election of 245 “Ensemble” deputies on Sunday, June 19th, the presidential majority party did not reach the threshold of 289 deputies required to have an absolute majority in the National Assembly. This is an unprecedented situation since the establishment of the five-year term. In this uncomfortable context, the government is embarking on the 16th legislature of the 5th Republic, which began on Wednesday, June 22nd. The stakes are high for the nuclear industry as the lower house will be asked to consider several issues related to the atom.

Very soon, some deputies will have to examine the latest national plan for managing radioactive materials and waste (PNGMDR). Following Article L. 542-1-2 of the Environment Code and the public consultation (closed on June 16th), the PNGMDR will be published and sent to Parliament, which will submit it to the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (OPECST), made up of eighteen deputies and eighteen senators, for evaluation.

On June 14th, the Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, told La Tribune that if there is a majority, “a project to accelerate the energy transition will be submitted to Parliament this summer (…). It is a project that will allow us to accelerate renewable energies, but which will also allow us to accelerate nuclear power”. This bill’s precise contours are unknown, and the results of last Sunday’s elections will make it challenging to write.

In 2023, MEPs will work on the first-ever Energy and Climate Programming Act (LPEC). It must be adopted by July 2023. Its objective is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This future framework law will be supplemented by a review of the national low-carbon strategy (SNBC) and the multiannual energy program (PPE), which should review the closure of 12 nuclear reactors by 2035.

Involving parliamentarians in public debates 

The autumn of 2022 will be marked by the launch of several energy-related debates in which parliamentarians will be involved. The first of these will be the national consultation on the future energy system, which aims to mobilize the general public on the issue of the energy mix. As part of its advisory role, the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP) has proposed to the government that parliamentarians be closely involved.

As a follow-up, the Commission particulière du débat public (CPDP) will open a public debate on the program for new nuclear reactors and the first pair of EPR2 reactors in Penly. This is a necessary step for the launch of the first works. To date, how parliamentarians will be involved in this debate has not yet been revealed.

Difficulties to come? 

Emmanuel Macron’s presidential program provides a significant energy transition plan combining the revival of nuclear power and the development of renewables. This includes, in particular, the construction of six EPR2s with an option for eight additional units, a tenfold increase in solar power, and the installation of 50 offshore wind farms by 2050. This already ambitious task will have to deal with the positions of the main opposition groups in the Assembly. On the one hand, there are the “NUPES” (131) MPs who favor phasing out nuclear power and abandoning the EPR projects, except for the PCF. And on the other side, the “Les Républicains” (61) and “Rassemblement national” (89) deputies, some of whom were against the development of wind energy.

Even before they begin, the debates on energy promise to be agitated.

Published on 23th June 2022

By Thomas Jaquemet (Sfen)

Photo © Assemblée nationale