France will construct six new nuclear power reactors, consider building a further eight and push ahead with the development of small modular reactors, President Emmanuel Macron has said.
Speaking at GE Steam Power’s manufacturing site at Belfort in eastern France on Thursday, Macron, who faces a presidential election in April, said the main objective of the new policy was to reduce the country’s energy consumption while increasing its carbon-free energy production capacity.
He said in the coming decades France must produce more carbon-free electricity, because even if it reduces its energy consumption by 40%, the exit from oil and gas within 30 years implies that it will replace part of the consumption of fossil fuels with electricity. The country must therefore be able to produce up to 60% more electricity than today.
“Key to producing this electricity in the most carbon-free, safest and most sovereign way is precisely to have a plural strategy … to develop both renewable and nuclear energies,” Macron stated.
“We have no other choice but to bet on these two pillars at the same time. It is the most relevant choice from an ecological point of view and the most expedient from an economic point of view and finally the least costly from a financial point of view.”
The time is right for a nuclear renaissance in France, Macron said, adding he had made two important decisions regarding this.
Firstly, he said the operation of all existing reactors should be extended without compromising safety.
“If it is necessary to be cautious about the ability to extend our reactors, I hope that no nuclear reactor in a state of production will be closed in the future given the very significant increase in our electrical needs; except, of course, if safety reasons were necessary.”
He added that as the operation of some reactors had already been successfully extended beyond 40 years, he was requesting EDF and the nuclear regulator to “study the conditions for extending beyond 50 years”.
New build programme
Secondly, Macron announced the launch of a programme of new reactors. “We have learned lessons from the construction of EPR in Finland, where it is now complete, and in France at Flamanville. EDF has undertaken with the nuclear sector the design of a new reactor for the French market, the EPR2, which has already mobilised more than one million hours of engineering and presents significant progress compared with the EPR of Flamanville.
“I would like six EPR2s to be built and for us to launch studies on the construction of eight additional EPR2s,” he said. “We will thus advance step by step.”
Preparatory projects will be started in the coming weeks, Macron said, including finalisation of the design studies, referral to the national commission for public debate, definition of the locations of the three pairs of reactors and a ramp-up of the nuclear sector. He said a broad public consultation would take place in the second half of 2022 on energy, then parliamentary discussions will be held in 2023 to revise the multi-annual energy programme.
“We are aiming for construction to begin by 2028, with the first reactor commissioned by 2035. This implementation deadline also justifies the need to extend our current reactors and develop renewable energies.”
In addition, Macron said EUR1.0 billion (USD1.1 billion) will be made available through the France 2030 re-industrialisation plan for France’s Nuward small modular reactor project and “innovative reactors to close the fuel cycle and produce less waste”. He said he had set “an ambitious goal” to construct a first prototype in France by 2030.
“This new programme could lead to the commissioning of 25 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity by 2050,” Macron said.
Preparing the ground
“To implement these decisions, the regulatory, financial and organisational conditions of the sector and of the State must be met,” he added. “Within the State, an inter-ministerial programme department dedicated to new nuclear power will be created to oversee it, coordinate administrative procedures, and ensure compliance with construction costs and deadlines. EDF will build and operate the new EPRs.
“This national sovereignty enterprise, which is our common good, will be able to count on the support of the State for its solidity in the months, years and decades to come and to carry out this project on a scale unmatched for 40 years and to do so under the best financial and operational conditions. From a financial and regulatory perspective, massive public funding of several tens of billions of euros will be committed to finance this new programme, which will make it possible to preserve EDF’s financial situation and develop the entire sector.
“This is all the more important as EDF is going through a difficult period linked in particular to the operational difficulties encountered in the nuclear fleet … the State will assume its responsibilities to secure EDF’s financial situation and its financing capacity in the short and medium-term, as well as to enable it to pursue its profitable development strategy within the framework of the energy transition.”
Macron said the government, in agreement with the European Commission, would implement a new regulation of nuclear electricity that will replace the existing ARENH mechanism. Under ARENH, set up to foster competition, rival energy suppliers can buy electricity produced by EDF’s French nuclear power plants that were commissioned before 8 December 2010.
The new system, he said, would enable “French consumers, households and businesses to benefit from stable prices, close to electricity production costs in France. This is essential so that we can derive all the benefits from the nation’s historic investment and from the investment that we are in the process of recording.”
Nuclear accounts for almost 75% of France’s power production, but former French president Francois Hollande had aimed to limit its share of the national electricity generation mix to 50% by 2025, and to close Fessenheim – the country’s oldest nuclear power plant – by the end of his five-year term, in May 2017.
In June 2014, his government announced nuclear capacity would be capped at the current level of 63.2 GWe and be limited to 50% of France’s total output by 2025. The French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law, adopted in August 2015, did not call for the shutdown of any currently operating power reactors, but it meant EDF would have to close older reactors in order to bring new ones online. However, under a draft energy and climate bill presented in May 2019, France will now delay its planned reduction in the share of nuclear power in its electricity mix to 50% from the current 2025 target to 2035.