Divergence and convergence: the political economy of nuclear power and energy transition in the UK and France

Background & Aim
My research looks into the divergent energy policy trajectories of France and the UK from 1965 up to the present-day. It focuses on the contrasting paths of nuclear energy development in these two countries. I will explain how, despite starting with similar institutional set-up, political support, and reactor technology, the nuclear energy programmes in France and the UK diverged significantly from the 1970s onward. Whereas France produced 70% of its electricity from nuclear power by the 1990s, with the state-run firm EDF continuing to play a major role, nuclear power failed to dominate the UK electricity scene. The most drastic change in the UK was not nuclear transition but the privatization and break-up of the electricity supply industry in 1989. This wasfollowed by a rapid penetration of natural gas in electricity generation.

The research seeks to expandour understanding of energy transitionsby highlighting how different institutional, political, economic, and intellectual contexts shape transition policies. It stresseshow transition is a multi-level and complex process, which is not limited to one technology seamlessly replacing the other. The project is particularly timely in an Anglo-French context. Both countries are currentlycooperating in building what will be the UK’s first nuclear power plant in almost thirty years, Hinkley Point C. It reflectson how this Anglo-French interconnection and interdependency through nuclear energy might shape the energy and infrastructure policies in both countries in the future

The analytical lens of the project draws heavily from transition theories such as those expounded by Geels and Turnheim (2016) and Smith et al (2005) that highlight the non-linearity and complexity of different socio-technological transitions. Sailing out from this theoretical point of departure, the research consists largely of qualitative investigations. It carries out reviews of secondary literature on the nuclear histories of both France and the UK, analyzes official government documents, and makes use of government records at the national archives in Paris and London.

Energy transition, nuclear energy, political economy, energy market reforms

The following are the deliverables that are being worked on:

Kim, Tae Hoon, ‘Diverging trajectories: how and why France and the UK took different nuclear paths’ (work in progress,submitted to the Energy ReportJournal)

Kim, Tae Hoon, ‘Why Britain selects commercially inexperienced, first of a kind reactors for its nuclear energy programmes: from the 1960s to the 2010s’ (submitted to the Energy PolicyJournal)

Kim, Seung Wan, Kim, Tae Hoon, Pollitt, Michael, “Future of Korean Power Industry towards Sustainable Energy Ecosystem: Lessons from Central Electricity Generating Board of United Kingdom at 1983”(work in progress)

Kim, Tae Hoon, ‘Empowering consumers: the energy policies of Tony Benn, Margaret Thatcher, and Jeremy Corbyn and the privatization debate’ (work in progress, due to be submitted to the Journal of Public Policy

Project leader

Project leader: Professor Dr. Per Högselius

Main researcher: Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Tae Hoon Kim

Division of History of Science, Technology, and Environment

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Stockholm, Sweden

Other project members
I am currently in contact with a number of historians from the Committee of Electricity and Energy History at Fondation EDF in Paris, France. Although they are not formally part of this project, they have helped me in terms of research material and advice.