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France to Reduce Nuclear Capacity by 33%–in 15 Years–Maybe



After the big, but rather ambiguous, news out of Japan, some reports have tried to join it to a less big but no less ambiguous declaration out of France:
In Paris, President Francois Hollande confirmed his campaign pledge to cut the share of nuclear power in France's energy mix to 50 percent by 2025 from 75 percent. At the same time he urged the European Union to set tough targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 and 2040.
"We have an ambitious strategy," Hollande told an environment conference, calling for a 40 percent cut in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 and a 60 percent reduction by 2040 at the EU level, well beyond the 20 percent target set for 2020.
Greenhouse gases are emitted mainly by burning fossil fuels - nuclear power plants are not big contributors.
“Not big contributors?” Not contributors at all. I’m going to ignore the ambitious carbon emission reduction goals for this post because – really – what can say? – Bon chance.

The story doesn’t explain what Hollande will do here. He could close a few plants until he gets where he wants to go in percentage. I looked around to see how the French do license renewals. It’s different than in the U.S., where utilities are licensed to operate for a term of 40 years and can then renew the license – for one thing, it’s largely a state run industry, so it doesn’t really need to license utilities. Instead, France groups reactors review all at once – well, over a number of months actually, but still as a singular block.
The 900 MWe reactors all had their lifetimes extended by ten years in 2002, after their second 10-yearly review. Most started up late 1970s to early 1980s, and they are reviewed together in a process that takes four months at each unit. A review of the 1300 MWe class followed and in October 2006 the regulatory authority cleared all 20 units for an extra ten years' operation conditional upon minor modifications at their 20-year outages over 2005-14.  The 3rd ten-year inspections of the 900 MWe series began in 2009 and run to 2020.  The 3rd ten-year inspections of the 1300 MWe series run from 2015 to 2024.
If I understand the process correctly, Hollande has a fairly open mandate to close nuclear plants as he will. The story suggests the Fessenheim facility, because it is oldest, is a prime candidate, but Hollande hasn’t targeted any specific facility yet.
France isn’t Germany and is comparatively resource poor. Part of the move to nuclear in the 70s was due to the shock of that era’s oil embargoes. It allowed France a good deal of energy independence – it imports uranium but mostly from Canada - and drove the price of electricity relentlessly downward. Depending on a low-cost, high-yield energy source paid considerable dividends.
From being a net electricity importer through most of the 1970s, France has become the world's largest net electricity exporter, with electricity being the fourth largest export. (Next door is Italy, without any operating nuclear power plants. It is Europe's largest importer of electricity, most coming ultimately from France.) The UK has also become a major customer for French electricity.
The WNA story doesn’t really tip this but at about 4.1 to 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour, it suggests the French realize fair amount of profit – and that’s the French people, since they own the shop. Closing nuclear facilities in favor of – what? – renewable energy, perhaps? – could work locally because France needs less electricity than it currently generates, but it will cost ratepayers more and whittle away at the export market. That may not seem such a good trade, especially in a country with a voluble and politically engaged people.
Sometimes, when it comes to energy and electricity production, you do wonder if countries shoot themselves in both feet trying to endlessly square circles, especially when the circle is doing pretty well. The nuclear energy strategy is foot one.

I don’t really have a brief on fracturing, but this seems like a shot at the other foot:
One way French energy diversification would not be achieved, Hollande emphasized, was by the environmentally controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas. The relatively new technology, whose gold rush mentality has outpaced safety considerations for water table contamination and releases of methane gas – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – will, said Hollande, remain banned in France, Euractiv reported.
That’s a harsh assessment of fracking. It is controversial, but the French approach kills it off without much of a hearing. Closing the door on it so completely should be controversial, too.


jim said…
The world desperately needs leaders with SPINES & GUTS to ply facts and industrial safety and efficiency and environ impact records to face and kick ass the loud FUD mob rule crowd out there! The sheer PR public health hypocrisy of having your cake and eating it too by scaling back nuclear for no good real-world reason while trying to reduce Greenhouse gases and pollution is almost laughable weren't the fact that Japan, Germany and maybe France are condemning generations to historically known fossil fuel aliments just to appease the greens who have zero responsibility to manage the welfare of a nation at all. Greenpeace, stay out of Africa. They're bright enough to handle nuclear plants without your biased sanctimonious "advice."

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Anonymous said…
From what I have read, a nuclear phase-out has very little support among the trade and labor unions. Hollande is a socialist, and the lifeblood of socialist political support is labor unions. Angering a key constituency is not a good political move. There are more unionists than Greens, so simple math indicates that other than symbolic moves and policy declarations, little real moves towards a widesread nuclear phase-out are likely.

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