Wednesday, November 10, 2021

France: government projects construction of new EPR nuclear reactors

 After the report of french  transmission system operator Réseau de transport d'électricité (RTE) on October 25th 2021 with different scenarios on the energy consumption and the energy mix in France, president Emmanuel Macron has made the decision to build new nuclear reactors to safeguard the energetical independence of France and to reach the climate goals that the frenche government has committed itself to, writes frenche newspaper Le Monde:

The main presidential candidates had already spoken out for or against the construction of new reactors. Five months before the election, Emmanuel Macron - who has not yet declared himself - has in turn formalized his position in favor of relaunching the nuclear program. The head of state announced Tuesday, November 9, his decision to "relaunch the construction of reactors in our country" while continuing to "develop renewable energies". The project aims to "guarantee the energy independence of France (...), the electricity supply of our country and achieve our objectives, in particular carbon neutrality in 2050", he argued on the occasion. a televised address on the general situation of the country.

The announcement remains vague, however: no date has been given for the start of work, and the number of reactors envisaged has not been specified. Since 2019, however, the government has been considering a specific hypothesis: the construction of six new third generation reactors of very high power, known as “EPR 2”. The energy company EDF submitted a report to this effect in May at the request of the State, its main shareholder.

The launch of a new nuclear program would be a first for France "in decades", stressed Emmanuel Macron. Most of today's reactors were built at high speed, from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. The country now has fifty-six reactors, which already guarantee low-carbon electricity production. But this park is aging, with many facilities approaching or reaching the age of 40. Within twenty years, a majority of them should have ceased to function for reasons of obsolescence and safety.

In order to replace this electricity production capacity, France is therefore faced with a choice: to build new reactors or to rely entirely on renewable energies. "The president has set a clear course for keeping our climate commitments and ensuring our energy sovereignty," greeted Tuesday evening the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, who is known for her opposition to nuclear power. It is based on a triptych - energy savings, massive development of renewables and maintenance of nuclear capacity. "Until now, the executive had always assured that no decision on the construction of new reactors would be taken before the commissioning of the EPR reactor in Flamanville (Manche). However, after years of delay and additional costs, it will ultimately not be operational before 2023.

This announcement, which could be completed in the coming weeks by a more complete speech on nuclear power, was preceded by several stages. On October 12, Emmanuel Macron first pledged an investment of 1 billion euros, in particular for SMR mini-plants intended for export.

On October 25, the national manager of the Electricity Transmission Network (RTE) published a long-awaited report describing six electricity production scenarios to contribute to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Despite the presence of a 100% renewable scenario, the analysis confirmed the supporters of the atom, noting in particular that the more the scenarios require nuclear power, the less expensive they are. Finally, on Monday, on the eve of the presidential announcement, EDF said that the sector "would be ready" in the event of orders for new reactors in France, despite the doubts fueled by the setbacks of the Flamanville site and the indebtedness of 'EDF.

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear industry, which claims more than 200,000 jobs, welcomed the prospect of a revival with satisfaction. "These EPR 2 reactors (...) will create many qualified jobs, multiply innovations and once again have this French industrial know-how recognized throughout the world", said Cécile Arbouille, the general delegate of the Group of French industrialists. nuclear power. Alexandre Grillat, secretary of CFE-CGC Energies, also hailed "very good news for France's energy and industrial sovereignty" as well as "for its climate ambition".

"The climate screen obscures all other issues"

"The government has yet to publish detailed information on the program," recalls Valérie Faudon, general delegate of the French nuclear energy company. And there will still be a number of steps to be taken and a lot to be decided: the public inquiries, the locations, the funding model. The industry has prepared and must regain confidence in order to succeed in this new industrial challenge. "

Nuclear opponents, for their part, immediately denounced an announcement "disconnected" from reality and "undemocratic". "Nuclear power seems to be an easy solution to meet the climate challenge, but this is not the case," said Nicolas Nace, energy transition campaign manager at Greenpeace. When we look at the deadlines, for example, the first reactors could be commissioned at best in 2035, or even in 2039 or 2040, while the priority is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. "

According to a working version of a report devoted in particular to the rising costs (at least 52 billion euros) to build six new reactors, and revealed in October by the Context site, the administration is counting on a possible commissioning of the first pair “at the earliest by 2040”, while RTE has adopted the 2035 hypothesis.

"What is hopeless is that the climate screen obscures all other issues, also deplores Yves Marignac, nuclear critical expert and spokesperson for the negaWatt association. Yet it is irresponsible to take such a binding decision for France without considering all the issues. "Among these are the cost, safety or even waste management, while a large part of the disposal systems threaten to reach saturation point and the Cigeo landfill center project, supposed to be able to accommodate the waste. most dangerous radioactive substances 500 meters underground in the Meuse, still gives rise to numerous objections.

Nuclear power is also accused by some opponents of diverting attention to the detriment of subjects such as consumption control, energy efficiency, sobriety or the development of renewable energies. "The announcement of the nuclear revival was certainly predictable, but it is incredible and almost illegal in form, a national debate being necessary", considered the deputy (ex-La République en Marche, Maine-et-Loire) Matthieu Orphan, spokesperson for environmental candidate Yannick Jadot. The latter pleads for an exit from nuclear power within twenty years.

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