France has led Europe's nuclear effort since Charles de Gaulle decided to free his country from foreign dependence in the late 1960s. France has 59 reactors, the highest per capita in the world, and gets 75 percent of its electricity from splitting the atom. As a result, it is only half as much dependent on Russian natural gas as the rest of Europe. Areva, a world-leading manufacturer, has nevertheless seen its position slip in recent years. Its Olkiluoto project in Finland, begun in 2005, was originally supposed to be completed by 2008 but is now not scheduled to open until 2014 at more than 50 percent over budget. An identical reactor in Flamanville on the Normandy coast, begun in 2006, is not scheduled to open until 2016. Bureaucratic delays and disputes over workmanship have slowed both projects. Still, Areva dominates nuclear construction in Europe and America. It is building both a weapons-plutonium recycling plant in South Carolina and a uranium enrichment plant in Idaho.
A nascent anti-nuclear movement has finally taken hold in France, but it is unlikely to close any reactors. If it did, Italy would probably collapse. The Italians responded to Chernobyl by shutting down all their reactors and now import 80 percent of their electricity. An Italian proposal to build eight new coal plants was shouted down in Europe and a subsequent plan to revive nuclear has been postponed indefinitely by the financial crisis. The Italians may be the first country to miss the nuclear boat completely.
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