L’accord signé le 21 octobre dernier sur la construction de deux réacteurs nucléaires (de troisième génération ou EPR) en Grande-Bretagne relance le débat sur le nucléaire civil. En effet, à l’heure où l’Allemagne se dénucléarise, ce secteur de l’économie britannique connaît un véritable renouveau. Ainsi la stratégie énergétique britannique est-elle adaptée au monde d’aujourd’hui ? Quelles sont les conséquences d’un tel choix aussi bien sur la population britannique que sur l’environnement ?
The British Government and the public French electricity company EDF announced a few days ago in London that they had reached an agreement to construct two nuclear reactors in Hinkley Point (Southwest of England) able to supply electricity to five million homes. This announcement is very significant for several reasons. First at all, because it is the first project to build nuclear power plants in Europe after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 (which is why this project almost never came to be). Secondly, because it puts an end to the nuclear moratorium that the United Kingdom approved in 1986. So this decision is somehow historical.
In terms of energy policy it constitutes a turning point for the UK, which has 16 reactors functioning in nine nuclear power stations – which generate 19 % of the electricity that the British consume, far from the peak of 26 % reached in 1997. These somewhat old stations will all have to close by 2023.
The end of the moratorium was initiated by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2003 due to the imminent shutting of the current plants and the popular environment-friendly goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. His successor, Gordon Brown, launched in 2008 a white book in 2008 proposing both to aim for the moratorium and the development of renewable energies. The Lib-Dem coalition led by David Cameron approved in 2010 a program to construct eight new nuclear power stations before 2025.
Beyond that, with this project, the United Kingdom distances itself not only from its neighbours like Germany which has permanently turned the page of nuclear power but also from all existing patterns. Indeed the Hinkley Point project promotes a new pattern with private financing (and foreign public financing too) which can guarantee its profitability. But it raises the problem of the price of electricity for Britons, who will also insist the safety of these new plants be reinforced.
The strengthening of nuclear power will have a positive impact on air quality by reducing CO2 emissions – the German example shows that stopping nuclear power plants results in rising emissions and air pollution – but the dangers of nuclear accidents and the problem of nuclear waste make nuclear energy very unpopular with Britain’s numerous environmental activists. The British government is developing other sources of energy as well, shale gas for example. Like President Obama in the USA, Prime Minister Cameron is betting on an “all-of-the-above” energy policy…