right,nI remember, a year or two ago,nreading an article by Charles Krauthammer,nin which he pointed out thatna one-cent tax on imported petroleumncould produce one billion dollars ofnrevenue for the U.S. Treasury, and thatna one-dollar tax could bring in 100nmillion dollars per annum — enough,nhe claimed, to wipe out the federalngovernment’s annual deficit in three ornfour years. To the average Frenchman,nwho now has to pay close to six francsn(roughly $1.20) for one liter of highoctanengasoline, this sounds likenstraightforward common sense; translatedninto gallons this amounts to anprice of $4.80 at the pump.nWhat to an American might seemnan intolerable hardship has, for thenFrench, been a blessing in disguise.nThirteen percent of the French budgetnis financed by the tax on gasoline, andnthis is one of the reasons why in recentnyears the French government’s annualndeficits have been relatively small. Butnthe long-term benefits have been evenngreater, for the high cost of importednfuel has prompted successive Frenchngovernments to invest heavily in othernforms of energy and to develop ultramodernnmeans of mass transportationnthat, in these fields, have put Francennot just years but decades ahead of annegligent United States.nThe shock produced by SaddamnHussein’s invasion of Kuwait last Augustnwas not for the French the firstnexperience of this kind. In 1956, whennNasser nationalized the British-and-nFrench-run Sue/’Canal Company, thenFrench were suddenly faced with ancrippling shortage of fuel, simply becausentheir traditional suppliers — Iraq,nIran, and Saudi Arabia — could nonlonger ship petroleum through thenSuez Canal. The pipelines that nowncross Turkey and Syria did not yet exist,nany more than did supertankers capablenof economically transporting petroleumnover the far longer route aroundnthe Cape of Good Hope.nEven though the French had by thatntime begun to tap the oil resources ofnthe Sahara, the dangerous shortage ofnfuel during the Suez crisis had a traumaticneffect on the nation and itsnpolitical leaders. The first visible consequencesnbegan to appear in 1958,nwhen General de Gaulle, partly fornmilitary reasons, decided to step upn48/CHRONICLESnresearch in the field of nuclear energy.nHe may not already have realized thatnone day he would have to say good-byento a French Algeria and a FrenchnSahara, but he was too hypersensitivenabout his country’s “independence” tonbe willing to allow France to go onnbeing almost totally dependent for itsnenergy needs on oil imported fromnNorth Africa, the Middle Fast, or —nsupreme humiliation!—the UnitednStates.nThus was born a state-subsidizedncompany called Framatome, which hasnsince grown into the world’s largestndesigner and producer of nuclear powernplants. In 1974, when Europe wasnhit by another “petroleum shock”n(caused this time by the creation ofnOPEC), France, with only one nuclearnreactor in full-time operation (but withnsix others nearing completion), still hadnto rely on petroleum for 80 percent ofnits energy needs. Today, with 53 reactorsnin operation, France’s dependencenon petroleum has dropped to aroundn35 percent — a ratio no other industrializedncountry comes close to matching.nAlthough a nuclear power plantncosts almost twice as much to build as anpower plant based on natural gas, andnthree times as much as a turbine plantnusing fuel oil, a nuclear plant generallynhas a longer life expectancy, rangingnfrom five to fifteen years. But its mainnadvantage, as Jean-Claude Leny, thenpresent head of Framatome, explainednlast November to Le Figaro, resides innthe fact that when the internationalnprice of petroleum reaches 30 dollars anbarrel, it costs 50 cendmes (roughly 10ncents) to produce one kilowatt-hour ofnelectricity in a fuel operated powernplant and only 20 centimes in a nuclearnpower plant. Every increase in theninternaHonal price of petroleum aboventhe 30-dollar level further favors nuclearnpower. Which is why Leny confidentlynpredicts that “to cover its needs,nAmerica will have to build from 100 ton150 nuclear power plants between nownand the end of the century.”nThis, however, is not the only reasonnfor believing that France today isnbetter prepared than most industrializedncountries to cope with the world’snlatest “petroleum shock.” The progressnFrance has made in railroad transport,nparticularly in the field of highspeedntrains, has been no less spectacu-nnnFifteen or twenty years ago one ofnAmerica’s first ecologists, Barry Commager,nwas already pointing out that itnrequires six times as much energy tontransport someone over the same distancenin an automobile as in a train.nGlib comparisons of this kind can benmisleading, for much depends on hownmany persons there may be in the car,nexactly how powerful and fuel-consumingnit is, and how well filled inncomparison is the passenger train.nStatistical experts employed by thenSNCF — the Syndicat National desnChemins de Fer Frangais, as the statecontrollednFrench railway system isncalled — are more modest in theirnclaims. They have calculated that thenelectric energy equivalent of one liternof gasoline can carry a train-bornenpassenger over a distance of 42 miles, ifnthe train is only 65 percent full. (If thenproportion of seat occupancy nears 80npercent, which is now the case of manynhigh-speed French trains, then the distancenincreases correspondingly.) Thensame amount of gasoline (roughly onenquarter of a gallon) can propel a carntransporting 2.5 passengers (a statisticalnaverage used so as not to disadvantagenthe automobile) over a distance of 2 5nmiles, and the same amount of kerosenencan carry an airbus passengernalmost 12 miles only. Broadly speaking,nand allowing for the fact that evennin economy-minded France few carsncan cover 100 miles on a gallon of fuel,nthe energy-expenditure ratio makesntrain travel twice as economical asntravel by car and four times as economicalnas travel by air. And this is withoutntaking into consideration the enormousnquantities of fuel wasted every day byntraffic congestion on overcrowdednhighways and the “stacking-up” of airlinersnaround a busy airport.nToday no Frenchman in his rightnmind would think of flying from Parisnto Lyon — a distance of about 260nmiles (or slightly more than the 200nmiles that separate New York andnWashington, D.C.). For, by boardingnthe high-speed TGV — train a grandenVitesse — at a railway station in theneastern part of Paris, he can get off innthe very center of Lyon exactly twonhours later, without having had to takena bus or a taxi to one of Paris’s twonairports, with all the delays involved innchecking in, handbag examination.n