Eco-money France's €10bn bill is a stark warning to those countries now debating whether to opt for traditional or sustainable sources of power.
Europe's reliance on nuclear energy a costly obstacle to green power
A decision by France to spend billions of euros making its vast network of ageing reactors safe is once again making environmentalists question the future of nuclear energy.
"This is more evidence that nuclear energy is commercially, as well as environmentally, unviable in the long term. We have always opposed nuclear energy on grounds of cost as well as safety. That nuclear energy is far costlier than alternative energy is something we have always argued," Graham Thompson, a spokesman for the environmental lobby group Greenpeace, says.
French nuclear authority ASN has warned that France and its nuclear energy supplier EDF will have to find roughly €10 billion (Dh46.74bn) to ensure the nation's vast spider's web of 58 nuclear reactors spread across the country are made safe.
France, which relies on nuclear energy for almost 80 per cent of its power, is having to comply with an international raising of nuclear-power-generation safety standards after last year's nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan. There is concern that many of France's reactors, about 34 of which are coming up to 30 years old, will require increasingly expensive maintenance in the future.
Although none of the French reactors need be shut down immediately, they require a huge investment if they are to be made safe in the event of a natural shock on the scale of Fukushima. But French Prime Minister François Fillon has promised to ensure that nuclear operators will conform to all of the safety requests made by ASN. Given voter concern over the dangers of nuclear energy, the French government can do little but enforce new safety regulations and other governments across the world will also need to follow suit.
The rising cost of nuclear energy versus the falling cost of power sources such as the wind and the sun is also set to be a primary focus of the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) 2012 being held in Abu Dhabi next week.
France's €10bn bill acts as a stark warning to those countries now debating whether to opt for traditional or sustainable sources of power. Nuclear energy's reputation as a cheap, clean source of electricity has become increasingly tarnished. There is mounting evidence that, as a long-term source of sustainable energy, nuclear power is neither cheap nor clean. The possibility of radioactive fallout from a faulty reactor and mounting safety costs appear to far outweigh any benefits formerly associated with nuclear energy.
Developing economies, in particular, are in a prime position to avoid the sustainable energy problems facing the more developed world. As well as sidestepping a potential nuclear nightmare, they can also leapfrog power-generation solutions that are reliant on fossil fuels.
Africa, for example, currently has a relatively clean slate as far as power generation is concerned. According to the United Nations (UN), over 600 million Africans do not have access to electronic power and roughly 70 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan lives without access to clean and safe energy for their basic needs. Globally, there are still around 1.4bn with no access to electricity. Nearly half of humanity, over 2.5bn people, still relies on wood, charcoal and animal waste to cook and heat their homes.
The fact that regions such as Africa and Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt are looking at the long-term benefits of sustainable energy is good news for green investors. The developing world has already committed billions of dollars to renewable energy projects.
Investment in renewable energy in Africa alone grew from US$750m (Dh2,755) in 2004 to $3.6bn in 2011, according to Nigeria's Bank of Industry. This contrasts with a far slower global rate for renewable energy adoption; worldwide investment in renewable energy is estimated to have grown from $33bn in 2004 to $211bn in 2011. International business consultancy Frost & Sullivan believes that investment in renewable investment in Africa is now set to grow to $57bn by 2020.
Europe's sustainable energy woes are also having a directly beneficial effect on regions such as the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). Germany's post-Fukushima acceleration of its planned phase-out of nuclear power generation gave a boost to German-led project Investec, which aims to provide 15 per cent of Europe's electricity by 2050. Destertec hopes to develop a network of wind and solar power generation facilities stretching across the entire Mena region to feed Europe's ever-hungry power needs. The cost of the vast Destertec project has been roughly estimated at €400bn. The first phase of Desertec is now scheduled to start this year with the development of 500MW solar farm close to the desert city of Quarzazate in south central Morocco.
Throughout 2012, Europe's clean-energy challenges are now set to have a beneficial effect not only to developing countries but also to the long-term value of green investments in renewable energy.