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NEED TO KNOW

FRANCE

Power Politics

If imminent, catastrophic climate change is a serious problem, then more people are probably going to depend on nuclear energy in the future, concluded a Bloomberg Opinion column recently.

Yet France illustrates the pitfalls of splitting the atom – or going to other great lengths – to generate electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As protesters wearing yellow vests shut down the country in November to protest gas taxes designed to shrink France’s carbon footprint, President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would shut down 14 of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors, reported Agence France-Presse and Japan’s Jiji Press. The decision was the culmination of a discussion about the merits of nuclear energy in France that began after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.

France relies on nuclear power more than any other country, securing nearly 72 percent of its electricity from reactors. Macron wants to reduce that proportion to 50 percent in the next 15 years or so.

Macron is not totally against nuclear power. He tasked the state-owned utility Électricité de France, or EDF, to study the issue so he can decide whether to commission new plants in 2021. “Reducing the role of nuclear energy does not mean renouncing it,” he said.

Before the utility could release its study, though, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) issued its own report saying building 15 new nuclear reactors through 2060 would cost around $44.5 billion, wrote Reuters. In the same period, the costs of renewable energy sources would almost certainly decrease substantially, the agency forecast, raising questions about why the state should invest in a costly technology that occasionally malfunctions, precipitating nightmarish meltdowns. Cost overruns at two EDF reactors in France and Finland bolstered the ADEME report’s findings.

Macron has other options for keeping the lights on and sea levels at bay. He wants to quintuple solar power generation and triple wind power generation by 2030, while closing the country’s four remaining coal-fired power plants by 2022.

The reception to wind power, however, has been cold.

“From bourgeois people to militants of the far-left, anarchists, fishermen and rich landowners, opposition against wind power has become much more eclectic,” wrote Le Figaro, as translated by the Local. “It is ugly.”

Germany faces a similar dilemma, reported CleanTechnica. Aiming to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, officials in Berlin may have to rely on dirty coal to make up for at least part of the drop-off in supply, said GlobalData analyst Chiradeep Chatterjee.

Macron’s environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, quit last year, saying Macron was failing to fulfill his green campaign pledges.

Hulot wasn’t pleased. But Macron can’t please everybody.

WANT TO KNOW

UZBEKISTAN

The Road Less Traveled

Samarkand will host a meeting next week between India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in an apparent effort to hedge against China’s growing influence in resource-rich Central Asia.

Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani is also expected to join the meeting, India’s Economic Times newspaper reported, in the wake of the announcement that the Taliban has canceled planned peace talks with US officials in Qatar due to a dispute over the agenda.

The meeting will be of symbolic significance, an unnamed Central Asian official told the paper, as the countries of the region are seeking to reduce their dependence on Beijing.

It comes as India is working to create connections to the region through Iran and Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port in southeastern Iran and the 4,500-mile International North-South Transport Corridor — a shipping, rail and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.

GABON

Business as Usual

Gabon is returning to business as usual after government forces thwarted an attempted military coup – killing two of the plotters, arresting five army officers, and freeing some hostages taken when they assumed control over a state-run radio station.

On Monday, Lt. Kelly Ondo Obiang, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military had seized control of Gabon’s government in order to “restore democracy,” the Associated Press reported. A government spokesman said he was among the army officers taken into custody.

The failed coup means President Ali Bongo’s government remains in control of the oil-rich country, which has been ruled by more than half a century by Bongo and his father, Omar, who died in 2009. Critics say the family has enriched themselves at the expense of the people, a third of whom live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Bongo, who narrowly won re-election in a 2016 vote that the main opposition candidate said was plagued by irregularities, has been out of the country since October amid reports that he had a stroke.

MEXICO

The Price of Fuel

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended his decision to deploy the military to crack down on fuel theft after pipeline and refinery closures stranded drivers in long lines at the country’s gas stations.

Fuel theft has dropped from 787 truckloads per day to 177 since thousands of soldiers were sent to state-oil company Pemex’s installations last month, Lopez Obrador said Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Part of the president’s pledged efforts to crack down on crime, the move could both anger voters and hurt the economy, and will damage the country’s powerful drug cartels – believed to control the black market – only in a sideline business.

Lopez Obrador himself said last month that most of the pilfered fuel was being stolen directly from Pemex installations by an internal network of corrupt officials.

At one shuttered refinery, the military discovered a nearly two-mile-long hose siphoning fuel from the official storage tanks to a secret one intended for the black market. Meanwhile, at two nearby gas stations, hundreds of people waited up to five hours for supplies to arrive.

DISCOVERIES

Elephant in the Reef

Climate change is threatening the world’s coral reefs.

But Australian researchers are taking steps they hope will help prevent a future ecological calamity.

They have developed an underwater robot that seeds damaged reefs with microscopic baby corals, NBC News reported.

Researchers recently used LarvalBot, a briefcase-sized automaton, to seed corals at the Vlasoff Reef, an outer area of the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage site.

“The idea here is to use an automated technique that allows us to target delivery of the larvae into damaged reef systems and increase the efficiency that new coral communities can be generated,” said Peter Harrison, head of the coral restoration project.

During the trial run, the machine dispersed 100,000 larva specimens from corals that survived bleaching events that devastated the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017. It will take six to nine months for the baby corals to grow.

The team is confident that the bot will be able to spread millions of larvae in the future.

Other researchers praised the project but questioned whether robots will properly address the cause of the die-offs: climate change.

About half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef died off from warmer water temperatures during the 2016 and 2017 events.