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Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, delivers the EU Presidency address in Strasbourg, France, on Jan. 19, 2022.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, delivers the EU Presidency address in Strasbourg, France, on Jan. 19, 2022. (Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg)

President Emmanuel Macron wants French utility company Electricite de France to build up to 14 new nuclear reactors, pledging tens of billions of state support over the next three decades to the country’s struggling atomic industry.

“In the long run, nuclear power and renewables will provide cheaper energy, protected from the turbulences of markets,” Macron said in Belfort, eastern France, at a General Electric site that produces turbines for nuclear power stations and will be bought by EDF.

Macron said the government will push for massive growth in solar and offshore wind power alongside nuclear as the transition away from fossil fuels will boost the use of electric cars, heat pumps and other equipment and plants running on power.

Just two months before the presidential election, Macron is casting himself as the champion of a popular industry -- France prides itself on its comparatively low CO2 emissions per capita thanks to its reliance on nuclear power, which provides more than two-thirds of the country’s electricity output.

He’s also trying to boost his credentials as a defender of French industrial independence and shake off criticism that he let American rival GE grab key nuclear assets from France’s Alstom when he was economy minister.

While Macron hasn’t officially announced that he plans to seek a second term, he has effectively been on the campaign trail for months, promising subsidies to different sectors.

France should plan for the construction of six new large reactors -- with the first one coming online around 2035 -- and studies for another eight should also be launched. The new program could represent 25 gigawatts of capacity by 2050, Macron said. Tens of billions of euros of public financing will be committed to fund this program, allowing to preserve the financial situation of EDF, he said.

At the same time, France should prolong the lifetime of EDF’s 56 reactors, unless declared unsafe by the country’s nuclear safety authority.

France will seek an to find an agreement with the European Commission to introduce a new regulation for nuclear power to provide stable prices for French consumers and companies, Macron said.

The new reactors are meant to help France reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and reducing reliance on oil and gas -- just as price hikes in fossil fuels are reminding Europeans of their dependence on foreign supplies for energy security.

Macron’s main opponents also back ambitious investments in nuclear power, but they have criticized him for being inconsistent. Early in his mandate, he vowed to reduce reliance on nuclear energy and to shut a dozen reactors by 2035. Two years ago, he forced EDF to close its two oldest reactors.

Now, Macron is paving the way for EDF to start lengthy permitting proceedings for the construction of six reactors, which could cost about 50 billion euros ($57 billion), according to the utility.

The country, and debt-laden EDF, also faces a daunting task of progressively replacing older reactors in the utility’s fleet, most of which were commissioned in the 1980s and 1990s.

“EDF is our common good, a sovereignty company,” Macron said in Belfort. “It will rely on the support of the state for this unprecedented project in 40 years in good financial and operational conditions.”

The last reactor put in service in France was in 2002. Development of new projects has been put on hold after years of technical issues at the Flamanville-3 project in Normandy.

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