The story of the sacking of our energy sovereignty, what does the parliamentary inquiry report say?

The National Assembly, in front of the importance of the energy crisis taken in 2022 decided to launch a parliamentary investigation which started at the end of 2002 and concluded with the hearing of two former presidents of the Republic last March 16. This major crisis that we are facing is not linked to the geopolitical events of 2022, i.e. the war in Ukraine, even if they were the accelerated revelations.

This parliamentary commission of inquiry chaired by Raphaël Schellemberger (LR) with the support of the rapporteur Antoine Armand (LREM) tried to answer this question, why the state was forced to ask companies and the population to make an effort to save energy as never since the end of the Second World War, under penalty of risks of power cuts. Sorry, to soften the reality we do not talk about energy crisis but about energy “sobriety” or how to transform a crisis imposed by political decisions into a virtuous behavior which also has the merit of allowing a transfer of responsibility from politicians to companies and the general public. As written in this report “Let us regret here that, for the first time in forty-three years, France was, this winter, a net importer of electricity.”

Before entering into the heart of the matter, the commission considered the question of sovereignty or independence. If these two notions are close, a true independence on energy considering our availability of primary resources (raw materials and fossil energy) the total independence remains a mirage. However, to be sovereign in our choices, yes it is an absolute necessity.

The major finding of this commission is that a political wandering and a lack of total strategic vision have brought us to this situation, as it is written in the report “This history is that of political choices and truncated debates of society. It is the will to impose an opinion, without sharing it or even measuring its consequences. It is the story of a nation that has forgotten to think about its power and its role in the world, curling up on its domestic market and electoral strategies, forgetting about national interest and ambition. One has the right to wonder if the defense of national interests and the common interest are still part of our Republic…

In addition to the internal ideological assaults, notably by the political movement “Les Verts”, then “EELV”, our country has had to face a foreign influence that many of our politicians, blinded by the (one-way) notion of the Franco-German couple, have not wanted to fight, even among the most pro-nuclear. For the record, this passage from the report seems to me to be edifying: “It is thus regrettable to note that a European partner that has made different choices in terms of energy policy has allowed itself to interfere in our energy policy through its representatives. For, in leading its country along the path of nuclear phase-out, Germany has also repeatedly called for the shutdown of the French Fessenheim and Cattenom reactors, as well as for the firm exclusion of nuclear power from the European “Net Zero Industry Act”, thus preventing an entire industrial sector from benefiting from coordinated European funding mechanisms.

However, the nuclear industry has not had to suffer alone the setbacks of the strategic energy wanderings of our leaders. Indeed, the period from 2012 to 2017 was particularly symptomatic of an energy recklessness, which of the closure of 10 gigawatts of fossil electricity production (fuel oil and coal), which of the overall decrease of our electricity production: France will consume less electricity, but we wanted at the same time to electrify our individual modes of locomotion, which of the decision to close Fessenheim, etc.

The last president in office is not immune to well-deserved criticism of an energy policy that varies according to circumstances, due to his lack of strategic vision, a recurring feature of French-style technocracy.

In the course of the various hearings conducted, the commission came to wonder about the relationship between ministers and advisers. Was the technical and scientific information well assimilated, read and understood by the advisors? Was their duty to inform their minister carried out correctly? This clearly reveals a problem of lack of knowledge of scientific and technical subjects, including the construction of a scientific opinion, which poses a real problem in terms of informed decision-making by our political leaders.

Another salient point of this episode of political errancy concerning our energy policy and more particularly concerning the nuclear sector was the abandonment of research on the closure of the cycle, a first episode illustrated by the shutdown of Super-phénix, followed more recently by the Astrid project. The consequences are twofold. On the one hand, the cessation of these programs implies the abandonment of research, and we have fallen abysmally behind on these subjects. On the other hand, because of ideology, we refuse the possibility of solving in part the question of current nuclear “waste” on the one hand. And on the other hand, the possibility of an energy autonomy of several hundreds of years to several millennia, by the use of these wastes… But to hell with science!

We must understand one thing: our modern society has been built on our ability to obtain abundant energy at low cost. Energy is the lifeblood of our economic fabric. Not having maintained this major asset bequeathed by our predecessors, explains in part the decline of our economy. The destruction of our electrical production capacities, plus maintenance problems, mean that only 279 TWh were produced in 2022 by the nuclear park, i.e. 30% less than the average for the last 20 years (Reporterre – February 16, 23), and the same for hydraulic power, at its lowest level since 1976: 49.6 TWh produced compared to an average of 61.6 TWh over the period 2014-2019. However, less energy, moreover a more expensive energy are heavy handicaps for our VSE / SME and many of our craftsmen, weakening even more an economic fabric already in bad shape. There can be no economic growth without controlled access to abundant energy at a controlled cost. From being an exporter, we have become an importer, a new way to increase our trade deficit.

The other lesson is that the European electricity market has worked against us through the European taxonomy under the assaults of Germany, which did not want to see France benefit from an undeniable competitive advantage, but also through the Nome law and the ARENH device, the status of hydroelectric concessions and the rules of electricity exchange. Privatization, the dismantling of the electricity giant that was EDF, not wanting to target investments in nuclear power as “green” (taxonomy), forcing the electricity tariff to be at the cost of the last gas plant, are all emblematic examples. And on all of these issues, Germany has played its economic warfare against the competitive advantage held by France, its low cost of electricity production, thanks to nuclear power!

What were the major lessons of the commission of inquiry. The importance of taking the long view and implementing an energy policy for the common good. It is urgent to resume a major research effort, not only on nuclear energy, but on all energy sources, in order to regain our capacity for innovation and to regain our lost independence. The fields of this research are numerous and varied, including of course nuclear power and the closure of the nuclear cycle, nuclear fusion, but also hydraulic and tidal energy, new solar technologies and wind power. We must not neglect other non-electric energy sources such as geothermal energy or methanization for example. The mastery of these technological advances will allow us to recover our lost autonomy in fields such as solar energy, which is currently in the hands of the Chinese, but also in wind energy, where French players have almost disappeared…

For this to happen, we must also ensure a minimum level of acculturation of our senior officials and political staff to scientific issues, otherwise it will be illusory to see them make politically informed decisions.

The idea of creating personal liability for ministers who do not meet the scientific advisory bodies created by the law seems interesting. The hearings showed that there were, to say the least, problems with the follow-up of the advisory bodies created by the law, which did not meet as often as required by the law.

After these few introductory orientations, the report lists the following proposals:

Proposal 1: in line with our climate and industrial objectives, assume a growing need for electricity, for the end of the decade, by 2050 and beyond, and note the gap in production that separates us from energy sovereignty.

Proposal 2: to adopt a 30-year energy-climate programming law with climate, energy and industrial objectives as well as the related resources, which will be closely and regularly monitored by Parliament and expert institutions.

Proposal 3: Strengthen the consultation of Parliament, and in particular the OPECST, on energy policies and the control they exercise over their implementation.

Proposal 4: Put the General Directorate of Energy back within the Ministry in charge of industry and provide it with the means to identify, monitor and reduce our industrial vulnerabilities.

Proposal 5: ask RTE to change its security of supply criteria in the short term, and launch an overhaul of our overall security of supply doctrine under its responsibility

Proposal 6: Adopt a common and sustainable European position to define nuclear energy as a decarbonized and strategic energy that should be supported in the same way as renewable energies

Proposal 7: Link the reform of the electricity market to the negotiations on the EU’s global energy policy by carrying out a thorough reform of the European electricity market to protect the French specificity, and to decouple the price of gas from that of low-carbon electricity; in the meantime, suspend without delay and compensate the ARENH

Proposal 8: Following on from the recent announcement by the Minister for Energy Transition, demand compliance with the Lisbon Treaty and give a new impetus to the Euratom Treaty.

Proposal 9: maintain the hydroelectric concessions in the public domain, for example by applying a quasi-regulation system to avoid any competition and to relaunch the necessary investments.

Proposal 10: Continue and increase the ambition of the sobriety plan for the winter of 2022-2023, and extend it to all individuals, public services and companies, without ignoring the financial and industrial cost of load shedding.

Proposal 11: Strengthen efforts to decarbonize all emitting sectors, particularly in transportation, by accelerating public transportation and rail freight projects and reducing the weight of vehicles through incentives

Proposal 12: Evaluate energy renovation measures in order to prioritize the most efficient ones, set measurable consumption reduction targets and define them by department; launch a sector plan to develop training.

Proposal 13: revise our renewable heat objectives, which according to several institutes could be at least doubled by 2030, and strengthen the associated Heat Fund

Proposal 14: launch a new mining inventory on French soil, accelerate the identification of critical imports and the creation of rare earth processing and recycling industries

Proposal 15: deepen the forecasting of investment needs on the network, in particular in the case of the strong reindustrialization trajectory

Proposal 16: on all the major challenges in the short term (corrosion under stress, thermal fatigue) as well as in the medium term (impact of climate change), ask EDF to produce and present to the Government, to the OPECST and to the general public, a precise and prospective inventory of the measures taken to ensure the operation of the nuclear fleet, dams and all energy facilities

Proposal 17: conduct the preliminary studies necessary for the extension of all reactors that can be extended according to different scenarios, and anticipate as of today and within the framework of the LPEC the needs, impacts and consequences of the closure and dismantling of the existing fleet, regardless of the effective shutdown date of the reactors

Proposal 18: increase as much as necessary the resources allocated to the Delegation for New Nuclear Power in the monitoring of the project to build new EPRs and obtain regular and public monitoring reports on the progress of the project; consolidate EDF as a single, nationalized operator

Proposal 19: anticipate the need for renewal and development of the existing fleet, in terms of number of reactors (including SMRs) or installed capacity, in the coming decades and on existing or new sites

Proposal 20: ask EDF for greater transparency on its supplies of natural and enriched uranium, at least on a geographical scale by country

Proposal 21: support the strengthening of enrichment capacities on French territory

Proposal 22: study the industrial feasibility and economic options for installing a new enrichment plant on French soil in the short term

Proposal 23: provide all the financial and administrative support necessary for the extension of spent fuel storage capacity at La Hague

Proposal 24: validate the final stages and ensure the State’s support for the financing of the Jules Horowitz reactor, while controlling the deadlines and costs

Proposal 25: relaunch the construction of an ASTRID-type demonstrator, with potentially more modest power, to make up for the delay accumulated over 30 years, and continue to develop associated research on the fuel cycle.

Proposal 26: Increase support for technologies related to 4th generation nuclear power, giving priority to companies that are able to present experimental and/or industrial results, and not just numerical simulations

Proposal 27: ensure an increase in the number of salaried nuclear safety personnel, by optimizing the administrative organization and by examining the existing relationships between the various nuclear safety organizations, in order to assume the new responsibilities related to the revival of nuclear power.

Proposal 28: ask RTE to carry out an in-depth analysis, broken down by renewable energy, integrating their potential, their energy and economic profitability (calculations of average, minimized intermittency, acceptability, land consumption, longevity)

Proposal 29: Launch as soon as possible the calls for tender for the 50 offshore wind farms, make their installation binding and secure the financing and the commitment of the project owner

Proposal 30: Create an “energy apprentice” label to enable young people to identify the training courses of the future, associated with financial aid, mobility and accommodation facilities.

For the details of each of these proposals, I refer you to the report, which is very accessible, which is rather rare in this type of exercise.

In conclusion, a thorough and uncompromising parliamentary investigation has brought to light a catastrophic assessment of the management of our energy strategy, by our administrative and political technocrats, self-proclaimed from the camp of reason and government parties…

The commission does not stop at the only report and proposes a pragmatic way out of this catastrophic situation in which our country is. It proposes a real strategic vision over the long term. However, one question remains, namely how should we consider the production of electricity in France? Is it a market like any other? Many connoisseurs of the sector (Loïk Le Floch Prigent – December 16, 2022) think that it is not, and that it is a regalian responsibility that must be provided by a public company, on a market not subject to false competition, where only electricity traders prosper. In any case, the facts are in, tracks are traced, but will we have a government and a president of the Republic who will finally decide to leave the communication, to move to action to contribute to the good of the country beyond their mandate, nothing is less sure!

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