France | World Survey

Fast forward

23 July 2010

In an April speech to the Japan Atomic Industry Forum, the head of France’s atomic energy commission (CEA), Bernard Bigot, outlines projects including two Gen III?reactors, a fast burner prototype and a deep waste repository.

In France, it is well-known that our ambitious nuclear program has been launched after the first oil crisis in order to decrease the national energy dependency. As a result, the country now has a standardized nuclear fleet of 58 PWRs with an installed capacity close to 63 GWe, operated with safety as its priority by the French utility Electricité de France (EDF). This fleet covers between 75% and 80% of the national electricity needs, the kWh produced this way being by the way among the cheapest in Western Europe. But beyond this present situation, nuclear energy has been confirmed by law in July 2005 as the main component of the country’s future energy mix.

This confirmation of our national strategy has already led to very practical implications, with the authorisation given to EDF, in 2007, to launch the construction of a first-of-a-kind generation III unit, an Areva European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR), that should be commissioned at the end of 2012 in Flamanville in Normandy. A first authorization now followed by the announcement by French President Sarkozy of the construction of a second such unit, still in Normandy, but in Penly, that should begin operations in 2017. Although our nuclear fleet is still quite young, the major part of our reactors having entered operation during the 1980s and the 1990s, the construction of these first generation III reactors will be carried out to prepare well in advance the renewal of this fleet and optimize their deployment to replace when the time comes our oldest generation II reactors. Once in service, the EPR, which includes major improvements in terms of safety, operation and maintenance management, with a specified power around 1600 MWe and 60 years of forecasted operational time, will be a major milestone in our nuclear program. Meanwhile, the objective remains to extend the lifetime of our existing reactors within the limits imposed by safety requirements, and to this day, the detailed examination of the behaviour of their components is most encouraging. In 2017, France should then have 60 reactors in operation, totalling more than 66 GWe of installed capacity.

Beyond these operational moves concerning our nuclear fleet, numerous domestic industrial moves should also be mentioned here, demonstrating the French commitment in the development of all the aspects of our nuclear sector....

The vision we have for France is to... substitute the totality of the 145 Mtoe of fossil fuels which provide in 2010 half of our annual primary energy consumption for low-carbon nuclear and renewable energies. So far these fossil resources are used 57% for transportation, 23% for house and office heating and domestic uses and 20% for industry and agriculture. The fossil energy used for transportation will be replaced by electricity (plug-in electrical cars) and biofuels produced by nuclear, solar, wind mills or hydraulic technologies and biomass transformation. The fossil energy used for heating and domestic uses will be replaced by electricity, biomass and thermal solar energy. The fossil energy used for industry and agriculture will be replaced by electricity and hydrogen produced through water splitting by electrolysis....

On the important question of the long term management of nuclear final wastes...a law was enacted by the French Parliament in June 2006, following the 1991 ‘Bataille’ law, and building on its advances. This new act, on the sustainable management of nuclear materials and waste:

- Specifies a national management plan for both radioactive materials and nuclear final wastes and defines an associated R&D program,

- Specifies the conditions for the construction of a final deep geological repository for high-level long-lived wastes. An associated roadmap to select the site and commission the repository by 2025 is now being implemented,

- Guarantees the financing of this management plan, through the constitution of dedicated funds...

The act has set a 2020 deadline for France to complete an innovative fast neutron prototype, capable of burning almost 60% of the total uranium (compared with only 0.6% today, it will be something like a 100-fold improvement). From our preliminary research work on gas and sodium technologies, it appeared that only sodium-cooled reactors will allow to meet the industrial deployment deadline of 2040/2050, when a significant number of old reactors will have to be replaced, and we are then presently focusing our works on this technology. That nevertheless does not mean that we have abandoned the gas-cooled option and we are very pleased that the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have undertaken to present ALLEGRO, a project for an experimental, gas-cooled fast reactor, inspired and now partnered by CEA...

France has now entered a crucial development phase of ASTRID, that prototype Generation IV sodium-cooled fast reactor for which the delivery of preliminary design work is scheduled for 2012 and building should begin in 2015. This project includes a number of key innovations that will make this solution as safe as third-generation reactors and highly competitive in terms of economy and operability. And I should add that the French Parliament has just granted CEA the sum of EUR900 million for heavy investment in nuclear technology that will contribute in securing the financing of that project.

All these R&D works will require of course numerous experimental facilities. In this prospect, France, through CEA, is already building a major and advanced irradiation tool expected for 2014, the Jules Horowitz Reactor. This new reactor will closely associate industrial partners and will be widely open to international participations (Japan, but also for example the Czech Republic or India are already involved), will allow the development and studies of new fuels and materials both for use in existing reactors and to prepare the development of fourth generation systems.

Bernard Bigot Bernard Bigot

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