Energy: Unplugged — France and the Nuclear Business

Stay tuned all week to FOX Report, as FNC continues the series, Energy: Unplugged.

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By French standards, I guess you could say I’ve been roughing it. Three days in France, and still no foie gras. It’s true that I’ve had a couple of things that were similar. Something called terrine, which looked like a lot of meat and fat squished together, and another dense substance — probably the same contents — called rillette, which was translated on the menu as “potted goose meat.”

I know that doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it was all, of course, very good. I’m sure it was good for me, as well. You know, all natural ingredients, and besides, French Women Don’t Get Fat. I haven’t read the book, but it’s a great title.

I’m not actually here right now to do a review of French restaurants. I know a lot of people have the idea foreign correspondents spend most their time doing that, but it’s just not true. Sometimes we review Italian restaurants as well.

To be serious for a second, I came from Rome to France this week to work on a story about nuclear power, as part of FOX's energy series. FOX producer Cicely Medintzeff and I spent most of Monday in the car with our crew, driving four hours up to a small town in Normandy where the French are building their latest reactor, which will be the country’s 59th. Per capita, that’s more nuclear reactors than any other country in the world.

We had to drive back the same afternoon, so it was a long day. While you do get to go to a lot of great places as a foreign correspondent, you also go to a lot of them for a very short period of time. You’re there for the story and then out. In Normandy, the problem was being close to a great place. We were right next to Omaha Beach and I would have loved to have stopped, but we just didn’t have time.

I hardly think it’s the kind of place where you pop in, get out of the car for 10 minutes, and say that you’ve seen it. The beach and the cemetery are places that are made for sitting down calmly, praying and perhaps having a good cry, thinking about how many young lives were sacrificed there to save Europe. All the more reason, I guess, to go back.

But back to the nuclear issue. Energy policy is all about politics, and the French got in the nuclear business early on thanks to Charles DeGaulle. He saw it as a way of becoming energy independent, and France needed something, since the country has no real oil or coal reserves. There was lots of natural gas in Algeria, but the former French colony won its independence in the 1960s, and France couldn’t rely on it.

What’s interesting is how many French support the nuclear program. The Greens complain that they’re the only party to oppose it. You’d think leftist parties such as the Communists would, but they don’t. That leaves the Greens with a pretty lonely battle, and they’re up against a huge utility, Eletricite de France (EdF).

To its credit, EdF has done a good public education campaign, inviting people to come visit the plants and learn how nuclear energy works. The French have had no serious accidents, which also goes a long way to building public trust.

So in the end, most people here don’t worry too much about the nuclear plants. They have other things on their mind, like what to have for dessert.

I thought about that the other night at dinner when a young American girl at the table next to ours blurted out, “I don’t know whether to have the crème brulee or the chocolate mousse.”

I thought for a moment, relying on my years of experience at this kind of thing, and then told her solemnly, “You know, at this place, I’d go with the crème brulee.” She followed my advice. What I didn’t tell her was that I had the mousse at lunch.

• E-mail Greg Burke

Greg Burke has served as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Rome, Italy since joining the network in October 2001.