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Page added on June 29, 2008

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The Nuclear Option

Decades of investment in civilian nuclear power puts france in the energy catbird seat.

Being poor in oil and coal might once have been considered a disadvantage, but not for France. Forty years ago necessity led Charles de Gaulle to pursue nuclear power aggressively as a chief source of electricity. For years this strategy put France at odds with environmentalists, but climate change and soaring demand for energy have changed all that. Because of its 59 nuclear reactors, which provide fourth fifths of the country’s electricity, France now emits only about half the greenhouse gas per unit of GDP of the United States (about the world average), which propels France to near the top of Yale’s and Columbia’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI). Nuclear power not only helps insulate France from wild fluctuations in energy prices, but it also suggests a way to reduce its dependence on oil for cars, trucks and buses: if and when plug-in hybrid vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are ready to replace today’s cars, French drivers will be able to tap clean energy from their electrical grid.

The most striking thing about France’s happy situation is the difference between its experience in nuclear energy and those of other nations

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