Macron sets out plan for French nuclear renaissance

15 February 2022

Following the announcement in November last year of a radical change in national policy, French president Emmanuel Macron has outlined the country’s nuclear generation plans in some detail.

France will construct six new nuclear power reactors, consider building a further eight and push ahead with the development of small modular reactors, president Macron announced, speaking at GE Steam Power's manufacturing site at Belfort in eastern France on 10 February.  M 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 the consumption of fossil fuels will be partially replaced with electricity. The country must therefore be able to produce up to 60% more electricity than today.

"We have no other choice but to bet on these two pillars [nuclear and renewables] 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."

M  Macron said he had made two important decisions regarding this. First, that the operation of all existing reactors should be extended without compromising safety. 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".

Secondly, M 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, 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. A broad public consultation will 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" he said.

€1.0 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 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2050”.

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