Article published the Wednesday 05 December 2012 - Latest update : Wednesday 05 December 2012

French press review 5 December 2012

By Michael Fitzpatrick

Le Monde is worried about a French nuclear reactor.

This is not a Fukushima story by any means, since said reactor is a long way short of any sort of reaction, nuclear or otherwise. At the moment it's basically an enormous building site at Flamanville on the English Channel.

The problem is money. Truck loads of the stuff.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

This is the first reactor of its kind in France, the so-called EPR or European water reactor, a version of the pressurised water gizmo that caused all the trouble in Tchernobyl in 1986. These new reactors are safer, more powerful and, inevitably, more expensive.

In 2005, the final bill for Flamanville was the astronomical 3.3 billion euros. That has now risen to 8.5 billion euros.

The question is not just finding the cash to pay the construction costs; the long-term problem will be the price of the electricity produced by the new facility. The original plan was to sell Flamanville juice at 46 euros per megawatt hour. The electricity company is currently refusing any speculation on a final cost to the consumer, but Greenpeace says power generated at Flamanville will cost more than 100 euros per megawatt hour.

If you are wondering about the terminology, one megawatt hour is an absolute pile of electricity; it would enable you to switch on one hundred thousand 1000-watt standard bathroom heaters for one hour precisely. I hope that makes everything clear. It would certainly make your bathroom very hot.

As Greenpeace point out, your average wind turbine can produce juice for about 80 euros per megawatt thingy, which knocks the whole economic argument about the new generation of nuclear reactors into a cocked hat.

And the French national electricity company is obliged to sell power to rival distributors at 42 euros per megawatt hour, meaning that the very expensive Flamanville facility is going to be a very efficient way of throwing money down the tubes.

The same national electricity company says the whole mess is nobody's fault, and is basically due to the complexity of the technology involved. If all continues to go to plan, the Flamanville reactor will start producing mega expensive megawatts in 2016.

Catholic La Croix looks at the margin for discussion between bosses and trade unions as nogotiations open with a view to making French industry more competitive. They have to find some way of giving the employers more flexibility while giving the workers more security. That will be a good trick, especially given the economic pressure created by relatively low labour costs elsewhere inside the European Union, not to mention north Africa or Asia.

The main headline in right wing Le Figaro suggests that Syrian leader Bachar al-Assad is running out of time. He's been killing his own people for nearly two years, 40,000 of them according to current estimates, while the rest of the world has wrung its figurative hands and done absolutely nothing. Now, the fear that Assad might, in desperation, use his reserves of chemical weapons has given the western world a wake-up call. What difference that will ultimately make to an appalling situation is not very clear. We should all be ashamed.

tags: Bashar al-Assad - Employment - Energy - France - French press review - Nuclear - Press review - Renewable energy - Syria
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