Only culture and politics in the way -- Nuclear free

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By installing 6.2 GW of wind power as part of a "vast development of renewable energies," cutting energy consumption and increasing efficiency, it is perfectly possible to meet carbon emission reduction targets without continued use of nuclear power. That is the conclusion of a 258-page report, "Energies of the Future in the Nord-Pas de Calais," issued by Virage-énergie, an association founded in 2006 to study the feasibility of cutting greenhouse gases by a factor of four by 2050 in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of northern France without replacing Europe's second biggest nuclear reactor, the 5.4 GW Gravelines plant near Dunkirk. Gravelines is to start decommissioning around 2020.

The report argues that the "factor four" target can be reached by reducing energy usage by 45% and by supplying 70% of the remaining demand from locally sourced renewables generation. Looking at electricity alone, carbon emissions could be cut by a factor of six, assuming 95% of electricity comes from renewables. The region has the benefit of a good wind resource, both on and offshore and equally favourable conditions to develop biomass. Its high population density makes cutting energy use in various public transport options possible.

As far as wind power is concerned, the report envisages 1.5 GW of onshore capacity in the region by 2050 and 4.7 GW offshore, of which 2.5 GW would be located much further off the French coast and be developed jointly with Britain, Holland, Belgium or one of the Scandinavian countries. The end result would equate to wind penetration of 45% in 2050, a projection which is "realistic and technically feasible," says the report, pointing to regions in Denmark, Germany and Spain where such high levels have already been seen.

To achieve development on such a scale would require a local manufacturing base, the reorientation of investment from nuclear to renewable energies and strong political support for wind power at all levels. The limits are "not technical, but cultural and political," the report concludes.

Demand management

Though more than 90% of electricity could be sourced from renewables, a maximum of 5% conventional generation would still be required to cover any shortfall. Variable tariffs could be used to align patterns of consumption more closely to renewable production, in much the same way as was used to encourage off-peak demand when nuclear energy was introduced. By implementing energy saving measures and switching to locally generated renewable energy, the report also contends that fuel imports could be reduced by 75%.

The study was partly funded by Fondation pour une Terre Humaine, an environmental association, the local Green party and the anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucléaire. It involved wide-ranging consultations with research institutions, engineers, local officials and other interested parties. The study did not consider the issue of costs.

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