President Emmanuel Macron of France is walking a tightrope. He wants to “Make Our Planet Great Again” and imposed a fuel-tax hike. But protests against the tax that spiralled into a debate about the cost of living have left him struggling with his energy policy, and what to do with the nation’s ageing nuclear reactor fleet. Dan Yurman separates the nuclear promises from the reality.
At the end of 2018 French President Emmanuel Macron announced a plan to execute a “cautious reduction” of its nuclear energy generation. Macron said France would cap the amount of electricity it derives from nuclear plants at 50% by 2035, which is a delay compared with the goal of 2025 set by his predecessor Francois Hollande. But France will not phase out nuclear entirely, as its neighbours Germany and Belgium are planning to do. In fact, despite the promises of Green Party politicians for a more aggressive schedule, only the Fessenheim nuclear station, built in 1978, is actually scheduled to close by 2020.
Macron said France will shut down 14 commercial nuclear reactors by 2035 out of 58, all operated by state-controlled utility EDF. This includes “four to six” before 2030, two in 2027-28 and possibly two in 2025-26, provided this does not jeopardise the security of power supply. However, Macron’s plan is less aggressive than what would be needed if it set a deadline for closing plants at the 40 year mark. Here’s a scorecard:
- 32 reactors with power ratings on average of 900 MW reach the 40 year mark in a narrow range of 2023-2028.
- 20 reactors with power rating on average of 1300 MW reach the 40 year mark in a 10 year range of 2029-2040.
- 2 reactors with power ratings of 1450 MW reach the 40 year mark in 2040.
Nuclear Power Plants in France. Table: World Nuclear Association
Nuclear plant lifetimes could be extended
Nearly half of all the electrical power generated by nuclear plants in France, 27 GWe, comes from plants that hit the 40 year mark in a narrow five year window of 2023-2028. If the reactor plant life extension measures can be taken, the plants could get 20 year license renewals that would take them into the mid-2040s.
Similarly, the other half, more or less, of the French nuclear fleet hits the 40 year mark in the 10 year period starting in 2029. If the reactor plant life extension measures can be taken, the plans could get 20 year license renewals that would take them into the 2050s.
Decision on new plants delayed to after 2021
The president said nuclear would remain a key element in national power supply. He kicked the decision on building new nuclear reactors into the future after 2021. A likely scenario is that new reactors would be based on Areva’s 1650 MW EPR design or possibly an 1100 MW design developed jointly by Areva (rebranded as Orano in January 2018) and Mistubishi which is a scaled down version of the EPR.
France has made only tentative plans to invest in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). According to a global review of SMRs by the World Nuclear Association in November 2018, France has developed the NP-300 PWR design from submarine power plants and aimed it at export markets for power, heat and desalination. It has passive safety systems and could be built for applications of 100 to 300 MWe or more with up to 500,000 m3/day desalination. The profile does not mention its use for domestic markets or applications.
The future of EDF is under discussion
A press release from the Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition said: “The government will maintain a dialogue with EDF in order to plan this decrease [in nuclear capacity] and designate sites on which the closures will be made.”
It says closures should take place primarily at the sites housing the country’s oldest reactors: Blayais, Bugey, Chinon, Cruas, Dampierre, Gravelines, Saint-Laurent and Tricastin. However, it will be up to EDF to specify which reactors will be closed. All of these older units are in the range of 900 MW. “The final confirmation of the reactors to be shut down will take place at least three years before the date of effective closure of the chosen reactors,” the ministry said.
The French government could boost its stake in EDF
Reuters reported that Macron did not mention a possible EDF restructuring but a separate statement from the government said the state could raise its 83.7% stake. “The state will consider boosting its stake in the capital of the company in line with the challenges and risks linked to the nuclear activity,” the note said.
Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy told a news conference that EDF’s structure was not necessarily the most efficient in the long run. “We want EDF to remain an integrated group. There could be a parent company and subsidiaries,” he said. Reuters reported that financial markets have long speculated that EDF’s nuclear activities could be put into a separate legal structure and nationalised, which would allow the state to subsidise the business.
Nuclear policy will impact Orano by the mid-2020s
Decisions announced by Macron regarding the shutdown of nuclear power reactors will have no short-term consequences for Orano’s plants in France, although they may have an impact “towards the middle of the next decade”, the company said in a statement. Orano, formerly Areva, said France has confirmed its commitment to treatment and recycling for the management of spent nuclear fuel. The company said it will implement measures to limit the impact of any shutdowns and would pursue investments in its facilities.
The company has two main facilities at La Hague in northern France and the Melox plant in southern France. La Hague carries out the first stage of recycling used fuel from nuclear reactors. The Melox site manufactures mixed oxide fuel assemblies designed to supply light-water reactors.
France will still need new reactors
In a nod to the reality that France is going to need new reactors, the government said further that it wants to maintain the option for possible future new reactors. Macron said he has requested state-owned EDF to “work on the development of a new nuclear program.”
The government will lead a work program with EDF on the industrial capacity issues of the nuclear industry, “economic optimisation” of the EPR reactor design, storage of waste from a new reactor fleet, financing models, as well as regulatory and legal procedures. A decision to proceed with nuclear new build will also take place in 2021.
Macron wants France to remain committed to EPR technology
The EPR nuclear power unit must be part of a package of technological options for tomorrow and France must maintain an industrial capacity to build new reactors, Macron said in his speech on the country’s energy program. He said France needed its EPR technology “for sovereignty issues” and said the government and state-controlled utility EDF will work together on “the issues of industrial capacity” of the [nuclear] sector and “the economic optimisation of a new reactor model”.
The French nuclear society SFEN told NucNet that if France – which has the world’s highest share of nuclear in its electricity mix – built 14 new EPR units it could cut costs and reduce construction times by up to 30%, benefitting from savings that can be made from building a series of identical or similar plants.
EDF’s aim is to reduce the costs of building new EPR units to between €60 and €70/MWh
According to SFEN, EDF has said its aim is to reduce the costs of building new EPR units to between €60 and €70 per MWh. The cost of the Flamanville-3 plant under construction in northern France has been put at between $93 and $106 per MWh, about the same as gas or coal-powered plants but cheaper than onshore wind farms.
France must now ramp up renewable and gas, and its grid
The problem for France, which Macron has not addressed, is how it will replace its fleet with a combination of nuclear, gas, and renewables, and how it will upgrade its grid to accommodate the new mix of power sources. France produces more nuclear energy than any other country, getting about 71% of its electricity from its fleet of reactors at 19 nuclear stations. Regarding jobs, nuclear energy is the third largest industrial sector in France and employs more than 220,000 people, according to Orano’s figures.
Dan Yurman is the author of Neutron Bytes and writes on nuclear matters. This article appears with his permission.
See Dan’s previous post Nuclear activity: UK, Russia, Japan, China and US all increasing capacity
Bas Gresnigt says
Even EDF’s target number of €60/MWh doesn’t add up in the market of NW-EU. And problems will increase due to continued renewable price decreases.
E.g. Dutch govt predicted whole sale prices of ~€29/MWh in 2035. While bidders had to deliver a positive bus.case (to be checked by govt accountants), Dutch govt could contract in May a ~740MW offshore wind farm for zero subsidy. While Dutch govt also got bank guarantees for penalties, etc. that Vattenfall will install all wind turbines within 5yrs and decommission all decently after 30yrs (2053), etc.
Present ~740MW offshore wind tender requires a fee of ~€2mln/a (increasing with inflation) from the contractor that wins the bidding round.
In Germany onshore wind and utility scale solar are now at ~€50/MWh and expected to decrease towards €30/MWh and further.
I expect it will end in coming decades at ~€15/MWh, the level we see now in very windy and sunny regions in the world.
With the advent of cheap unmanned PtG with high yields (75%-90%) and high yield fuel cells (80%) together with cheap storage in deep earth cavities, I don’t see how new French nuclear can compete in the NW-EU market.
May be somebody can explain?
Peter Farley says
You are too kind to EDF. They can’t achieve E 60 per MWh from an EPR If Britain had to guarantee Pds 92 + inflation since 2012 to get Hinckley Point built i.e. E 132/MWh How will France with higher labour costs halve the cost
FT stated in Nov.2018 that EDF wants to transfer major part of the risks to the rate payers. Which, together with the repeat benefits, may decrease their costs towards near £60, so ~€70/MWh.
It’s against the EU honest competition rules, but UK will be out of the EU when the new plant (Sizewell) is ready in ~2035.
Dutch govt expects for 2035 an whole sale price of ~€29/MWh.
However, UK’s prices are on av. already ~€15/MWh higher than those in NL, and may increase further as UK govt is reluctant with more wind, etc.
And being out of the EU, UK govt can allow electricity prices to increase further without getting major criticism from the EU.
NL should try to install a second cable to UK, so we can earn more money by exporting more electricity, most of which we buy in Germany.
– Note that FT states the costs for Hinkley C as £20B, so they move another step towards the 2014 EU accountant estimate of £24.5B.
UK govt clenched in 2014 to the £16B estimate.
Not strange as they firmly stated in 2008 that it would cost <£7B, so they had already to admit in 2012 that the costs would be more than double by accepting the £16B figure…
– FT states that the strike price for Hinkley is £105/MWh in 2018 £'s. My calculation £102.11/MWh. And £104.36/MWh in 2019 £'s (provisional 2.2% inflation in 2018).
Peter Farley says
As for generation. This year Germany will generate 230 TWh of renewables with mainly old equipment and mostly poor wind and solar resources. If Germany replaced its 15,000 oldest wind turbines with 10,000 modern units its wind output would increase by 100 TWh.
If it replaced the oldest half of its solar panels with new 310-400 W bi-facial panels, output would increase by about 30 TWh. With an additional 20 GW of offshore wind that is another 80 TWh so a reasonable 2033 target of 420 TWh with net zero increase in land use or hydro or biomass output.
Given longer coastline, 80% more land area and higher insolation France could therefore produce at least 650 TWh from wind and solar with slightly fewer wind turbines and solar panels per square km than Germany has today. Total electricity consumption in France is 475 TWh, slightly less than Germany so wind and solar can easily supply all its electrical energy.
As wind is strong along both North and South coasts and France does not suffer anything like Germany with the winter doldrums, backup needs will be much lower. France already has 25 GW of hydro and is expanding that. With some reconfiguration of existing plants for more peak generation vs duration it can get to 30 GW+ with no new dams. It already generates 11% of its electricity from hydro vs 3.1% in Germany.
Replacing France’s inefficient space heating with heat pumps and building insulation upgrades can reduce peak demand by at least 8 -10 GW. leaving peak winter demand at about 80-85 GW. With a total of 30 GW of hydro and 18 GW of gas generation already installed or committed, allowing 10% of a total 60 GW of wind, 80% of hydro and 90% of gas to produce 46 GW. In addition France regularly imports 9 GW now and is expanding links to the UK, Spain and Germany . That leaves 26-30 GW of nuclear, hydrogen, new gas, batteries, demand response, new pumped hydro, power to heat and power to gas so the maximum nuclear likely to be needed is about 15-25 GW and probably much less, as maintaining batteries and pumped hydro is much cheaper than maintaining a nuclear plant.
Flammanville is expected to finish up at about E 13 bn for 1.6 GW of capacity and annual output of 12 TWh. 1 GW of offshore wind 1.5 GW onshore, 1 GW of tracking solar and 1 GW of rooftop solar and 1 GW/ 10 GWh of pumped hydro and 500 MW/1,800 MW of batteries will supply the same annual energy and slightly higher peak power. However the investment will be about E 7-8 bn. Operating costs for the renewable + storage system are lower, ramp rates are much faster, primary reserve is included in the cost, resilience is much better as there is no single point of failure
In Australia today wind and solar firmed by hydro is being offered at E 45/MWh. In the US its in even cheaper. Why won’t France follow the same path
Thus in France in 15-20 years time
a) there is plenty of space for more than adequate wind and solar backed up by hydro, biomass, some batteries and perhaps a few residual nuclear plants .
b) renewables will be much cheaper than any possible new nuclear future
c) a widely distributed renewables+ storage + gas grid is much more robust than the present centralised grid
Though ~optimally, your plans for France sound like a receipt for more social unrest…
They resemble the plans of their previous president (33% reduction of nuclear in 2025). Doubt whether present president, Macron, finds those acceptable as he wants to be re-elected.
Note that similar considerations also apply in Germany regarding lignite plants. Especially as many of those also act as CHP plant.
Regarding 100% renewable:
Even in far more dense populated small NL (488 people/km²) with far less sun, there is little doubt that we can migrate towards >100% renewable for all energy against far less costs than any nuclear. Even our utilities lost all believe in Nuclear. Last year, they said that they are not interested in nuclear.
Peter Farley says
It won’t lead to more social unrest if it is done gradually and lowers power prices
Bas Gresnigt says
Agree. It’s the policy Macron now tries to follow.
Renzo Tavoni says
France choice to keep nuclear and to build new nuclear plants is more a political approach than a pure economic view: they have nuclear plants to maintain for many years,they a nuclear industry to serve them and possibly to sell abroad and to offer national independence for the energy supply.
As far as,in my view for, the so called “inefficient space heating”I have a different opinion considering a good option this use. In effect the water heating is made only by night when the marginal cost of nuclear energy is very low and the hot water stored in vessel is enough for all the day.
Bas Gresnigt says
French Nuclear and EDF are slowly eroding under the now gradually increasing competition of new utilities (some are subsidiaries from German 100% renewable utilities).*)
While its ageing fleet of now 57 operating reactors produced in 2017 only 382TWh**), EDF is building only one new reactor since ~2007 (Flamanville). It may produce electricity in 2021.
Considering the competition in EDF’s home market, the risque that subsidies for another EPR may generate successful complaints by competitors***) at the EU high court, is substantial.
Even if EDF constructs another reactor, nuclear share will decrease towards substantial below 50% due to the increasing problems & costs to keep the old reactors up and running.
*) It took some decades before the French electricity market became competitive (I assume due to hindrance of EDF and French authorities). However competition has takes off. EDF lost 1million customers in 2017.
**) = 72% of French electricity. In 2005 it was still 79%.
On av. ~16 of its 57 operable reactors were out…
***) Competitors and others may complain that those subsidies falsify honest competition at the EU high court. There is still no final judgment about similar complaints in 2015 against UK’s Hinkley by some utilities, etc.
UK can hold that its EPR is new nuclear, hence a ‘prototype’ which should be granted an exception, but in 2022 France can’t.
They way out may be to redesign the EPR such that its reactor gets substantial smaller capacity as already suggested.