One a related but different note (France is largely nuclear, after all), see this solid article on the political-economic role of coal - the dirtiest of energy sources - in the major economies. Victor and Morse write,
Coal... sits at the center of the most inconvenient truth about global-warming policy: the countries that proclaim greatest concern about global warming are barely investing in the new coal plants that could help chart a better path for the world. Meanwhile, the fastest-growing countries have few incentives to invest in new climate-friendly technologies. And simplistic solutions, such as banning coal outright, are politically naïve because the fuel is so easy to use and offers the cheapest way to electrify most of the world.I haven't finished the article so I don't know how much they speak to this, but two points bear mentioning:
First, coal is cheap because it is, like most of the energy economy, priced minus externalities. Much of the full costs are clear, however, because we can often see or feel them. Flattened mountaintops, mercury-polluted rivers, black skies, suffocated miners, coal fires, asthma-ravaged lungs, etc. The biggest, though, is what we can't readily see or feel (for now): the major contribution to global warming and climate change. Coal may be cheap enough that even a full accounting would still make it more economically efficient over alternative energy sources. I'm not so sure that this is the case, however. A full accounting of externalities, perhaps especially with coal, could include a very broad range of generally ignored costs. Many both inside and out of the coal industry are waiting on a more accurate pricing of coal as we move into post-Kyoto economies.
Second, agreeing with Victor and Morse that an outright ban is unrealistic, the options for the coal industry are unclear in a post-Kyoto context. The current options appear to be either retrofitting coal plants with pollution-reducing technologies such as "scrubbers" or building new, cleaner IGCCs (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plants). One of the problems here is that scrubber technologies can be installed relatively cheaply and quickly, but are only stopgap measures in the longer scheme of things as countries move forward (hopefully) to tackle climate change. A significant conversion to IGCCs, however, would likely require 50 or more years to truly bring online. Without a clear pricing scheme for carbon and without clear and concrete policy action on energy, that estimated time-frame grows longer.
Read the piece, and then - for your cheery Thursday - check out this depressing article on new coal-fired plants.