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Frequently asked questions

Here you will find the most frequently asked questions.

Isn’t your export policy guided solely by commercial considerations ? Isn’t that dangerous ?

There is growing demand, especially in developing countries, for access to civil nuclear energy in an increasingly worrisome context for energy security and climate change. This is a reality ; we cannot ignore this demand.

Under the NPT, we have all undertaken to promote the development of civil nuclear energy. As President Sarkozy has stressed many times, and particularly in his first speech at the UN, we stand ready to provide our internationally recognized expertise to any country which diligently complies with all of its international obligations, particularly those under the NPT, and which pursues in good faith activities with peaceful purposes.

We however cannot ignore the specific risks involved in the development of nuclear energy. Such development presents fundamental challenges to our collective security. If we are to ensure everyone’s security, France considers that we must promote civil nuclear energy development that is responsible, in other words, that complies with the best nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security requirements. France’s nuclear policy is conducted under a rigorous, transparent and multilateral framework.

When it comes to nuclear exports, France has a clear policy. It consists in distinguishing the provision of reactors based on non-proliferating technology (light water reactors) and the provision of fuel needed to operate them, from the export of fuel-cycle (enrichment and reprocessing) technologies. France’s policy is to solely export these sensitive technologies under specific circumstances, economically and technically justified for the beneficiary country, and which do not pose any proliferation risks.

In addition, to export nuclear technology, France requires that the facilities that are built be monitored by the IAEA. This is what has happened with a reprocessing plant built in Rokkasho-mura, Japan.

For several years, France has proposed in non-proliferation bodies that the export of fuel-cycle (enrichment and reprocessing) technologies which are more sensitive because they can have both a civilian and military use, meet stricter criteria. The adoption of the criteria-based approach by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would undeniably bolster the non-proliferation regime.

What is the radioactive waste management policy in France ?

1. In France, all nuclear waste is managed according to the same rules, irrespective of its origin : irradiated fuel from nuclear power plants, research centres, medical waste or waste from military nuclear activities. Such waste represents 2 kg per capita annually of the 2,500 kg of industrial waste produced per capita annually. Because it is potentially harmful to human beings, such waste is strictly managed based on three major principles : limiting amounts produced ; sorting the waste according to its nature, level of radioactivity and lifespan ; confining waste to protect human beings and the environment with safe and appropriate solutions for each type of waste.

2. French policy on radioactive waste management defined in France’s Planning Act of 28 June 2006 on Sustainable Management of Radioactive Materials and Waste, is increasingly used as an international benchmark in this area.

How is the level of France’s nuclear forces decided ?

The level of France’s nuclear forces does not depend on that of other nuclear powers, but solely on the national perception of risks and analysis of the effectiveness of deterrence for the protection of our vital interests. It adheres to the principle of strict sufficiency, whose level is regularly assessed. Pursuant to the principle of strict sufficiency, France’s arsenal has been maintained at the lowest possible level in light of the strategic context and the development of threats that can be predicted. As the French White Paper on Defence and National Security states, “the level of sufficiency will continue to be subject to both quantitative assessment of the number of carriers, missiles and weapons and qualitative assessment of the defences French deterrent forces are likely to face. This assessment is regularly submitted to the President and updated under the responsibility of the Defence Restricted Nuclear Council”.

What is France’s position on nuclear disarmament ?

- France is pursuing the goal of a safer world so as to help fulfil the goals set by the NPT, whether they concern non-proliferation, disarmament or access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

- In accordance with the goals of the NPT, France is fully committed to disarmament, in particular nuclear disarmament. The best proof of its commitment to nuclear disarmament is its concrete record.

- France has a concrete approach to disarmament : beyond words, what we need to look at is action. From this point of view, France has taken irreversible, unique decisions. After the significant steps accomplished in the last ten years, President Sarkozy expressed his determination to ensure that France continues to actively contribue to disarmament. He announced, inter alia, that France’s airborne component would be reduced by a third.

- In addition to the far-reaching measures France has taken nationally, it has also sought to convince its partners to take more determined action when it comes to disarmament. In Cherbourg, President Sarkozy underscored an essential principle in pursuing disarmament : reciprocity. He set out ambitious proposals and called on the nuclear powers to commit to them resolutely by the NPT Review Conference in May 2010. Drawing on these proposals, the European Union adopted, under the impetus of the French Presidency, an ambitious disarmament action plan that was endorsed by the 27 Heads of State and Government at the European Council in December 2008.

- We hope that all the nuclear powers join us in promoting it. We can only continue down the path of disarmament if the will to move forward is shared by all. Trust, transparency and reciprocity are the basis for disarmament.

Together with its European partners, France has focused on the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the launch of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and the reduction of the largest nuclear arsenals (Russian and American). Many opportunities for progress are emerging in this connection and France welcomes them. A new arms control agreement between the United States and Russia is a disarmament priority : the two countries still possess nearly 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles.

- Lastly, it is important to avoiding disassociating nuclear disarmament from collective security and the strategic context. Let’s not forget that our main goal is to improve international security.

Why do we always link nuclear disarmament, general and complete disarmament and the strategic context ?

Nuclear disarmament is not a goal in itself that can be separated from collective security. Indeed, that is what the NPT recognizes (Article VI, which links nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament). A number of countries’ concerns do not only regard postures and nuclear arsenals, but also missile defence, conventional capabilities and space. We must therefore take into account all the political and strategic conditions that make nuclear disarmament possible and in determining the pace of progress. We must work to improve international security conditions to move towards a safer world.

Don’t we need to step up disarmament efforts to combat proliferation more effectively ?

- Some consider that fresh disarmament efforts are needed to advance in terms of non-proliferation.

- This approach is debatable. We may wonder if it’s really by eliminating more nuclear weapons that we’ll succeed in convincing countries violating their international obligations to comply with them. Let’s take a look at the facts. It was in the mid-1990s that some countries developed or accelerated clandestine nuclear programmes. Yet, at that same time, nuclear-weapon States were strongly engaged in the nuclear disarmament process and arms control, whether unilaterally (like France and the United Kingdom), bilaterally (like the United States and Russia) or multilaterally (with the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and the signing of the CTBT in 1996).

- On the contrary, escalating proliferation crises is a deterrent for seeking nuclear reductions. It is only when there is a feeling of security and confidence that disarmament is possible.

- Rather than creating theoretical links, it is important to advance on all fronts at the same time. This is the approach France has opted for and promoted.

President Obama and President Medvedev signed a new treaty to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals following on from the START Treaty. What is France’s position ?

- On 8 April, the United States and Russia signed a new bilateral treaty reducing and limiting their offensive strategic weapons to replace the START Treaty. They also underscored their intention to pursue the process of reducing their arsenals. We commend them for that. We hope that this Treaty will swiftly enter into force.

- We support the pursuance of the US-Russia bilateral process to reduce nuclear arsenals. The European Union made this an important part of its disarmament action plan adopted under the French Presidency of the European Union. It is a disarmament priority given that these two countries still possess the lion’s share of the world’s nuclear weapon stockpiles.

- Further cuts by Russia and the United States in their nuclear weapons send a very positive signal ahead of the NPT Review Conference.

- This announcement reflects President Obama and President Medvedev’s resolve to work for a safer world. For many years France has taken concrete, irreversible and unparalleled disarmament measures and fully supports the United States and Russia in this effort. It welcomes the fact that other nuclear powers are taking steps in the same direction, including the United Kingdom, based on a posture of strict sufficiency of nuclear arsenals

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