Despite the intensified post-war geological research and some good news in the field of hydrocarbons, it cannot be said that, in general, the picture of French mineral wealth has changed significantly.
According to Thesciencetutor, coal production remains below national needs, but has risen on average, between 1953 and 1955, to 55 million tonnes, that is to say more than 8/10 of national consumption: and this measure has also been maintained. after the release of the Sarre district, thanks to the increase in Lorraine production (1/4 of the total). The nationalization of the coal plants led to their modernization: the replacement of pneumatic drilling machines with cutting machines and excavators suitable for massive production, the adoption of new metal props in the tunnels, the installation of rational systems for raising the coal to the surface (automatic loading belts, large capacity wagons). And it has therefore raised the extraction yield which is the strongest in Europe (an average of 1700 kg of coal per day, for each miner). In the field of hydrocarbons, natural resources (after a large and meticulous investigation by specialists carried out especially after 1946) do not appear strong: but where deposits were revealed, that is, on the edges of the Western Pyrenees and in the Landes and also on the Rhone delta, mining quickly began at an industrial pace. The two main complexes are now those of Lacq on the Gave de Pau and of Parentis at the Étang de Biscarrosse which they supply annually – together with other minor ones: St. Marcet, Gabian, etc. – 1.5 million tons of oil (data from 1958) and about 600 million meters3of natural gas, already channeled with a good network of methane pipelines, in south-western France (the network reached Angoulême at the end of 1958). Methane production (which is expected to be exploited to an even greater extent than today, at least until the end of the century) has thus opened up notable industrial prospects in the southern regions, whose deficiencies the post-war period had highlighted; but oil extraction is far from covering French needs: and therefore the country must import 9/10 of its consumption. Imports up to 1958 taken from Iraqi fields (1/4 of which are in the hands of French companies), but which already in the last months of 1958 began to draw on Saharan production. In any case, this large import of crude oil poses a financial problem,
Logically, the field of greatest production of energy is electricity: and in this field the most notable effort was directed in the years after 1946 to the exploitation of water energies (while the importance of thermal power plants has not greatly increased, although they provide still more than half of the French energy and they are numerous especially in Lorraine). The production of energy in recent years has been 57 billion kWh, of which 27 billion are due to hydroelectric power plants. The areas on which water regulation and industrial equipment have worked most strongly are – already before the war – those of the Rhône basin and the Pyrenees.
The Rhone – which in the meantime has also been shaped and re-excavated with major canalization works, in order to enhance its navigability – with the great barrages of Génissiat near Bellegarde (completed in 1948) and with the more recent ones of Mondragon and Montélimar (which they also irrigate 300,000 ha of land) and with the high fall of Montpezat (through which the waters captured by the upper trunk of the Loire pour into it) today gives at least 1/5 of the French hydroelectric energy. On their own the Alps, especially in the Isère basin, provide half and the Pyrenees 1/10. After 1948, hydroelectric exploitation also involved the great south-western valleys of the Massif Central from which a little less than 1/5 of the
Since the availability of water for energy production has been almost completely implemented, it has now become essential to tackle the problem of nuclear energy production. France owns a number (about ten) of modest uranium deposits, currently under construction, in the districts of Grury and La Chaux (in the northern Forez), then in La Crouzille (20 km N of Limoges) and in the Vendée, with a limited production but which for now guarantees the independence of the country in the field of nuclear fuels.
In any case, the first thermonuclear power plant has been operating in Marcoule since the last months of 1958 and has been commissioned to supply plutonium to future power plants (it produced 20 kg in 1958). Another power plant began operating in 1959 in Avoine with an output of 60,000 kW.
But in recent years, with pioneering initiatives, France has appealed to other sources of energy: and precisely to the marine one, exploiting with 38 groups of turbo-alternators the currents that the strong tides produce in the Rance estuary in Brittany (production of 800 million kWh), and the solar one obtained in Mont-Louis, in the Pyrenees, through a giant mirror that transforms the sun’s energy into electricity.