During his recent visit to France, Chinese President Xi Jinping advocated increased cooperation in a number of areas, including “nuclear energy, innovation and finance”. French President Emmanuel Macron said France was “ready to step up cooperation with China” in areas including “nuclear energy for civilian use”. The visit coincided with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and France.

Among the business cooperation agreements concluded during the visit was a Letter of Intent (LOI) on Deepening Related Cooperation in the Nuclear Energy Field signed by China General Nuclear (CGN) Chairman Yang Changli and EDF Chairman & CEO Luc Raymond. Under the LOI, “the two parties will further expand and strengthen cooperation in aspects such as nuclear power engineering construction, talent training, EPR operations and leadership training in the field of nuclear power operations to achieve common development”, CGN noted.

This visit took place during the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and France presenting an important opportunity to build on past achievements and guide the future of bilateral ties, Xinhua noted. Co-operation between CGN and EDF began in the 1980s with the construction of the Daya Bay NPP in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Herve Machenaud, former technical director of EDF from 1984 to 1989 told Xinhua News Agency: “EDF put its trust in China, and China put its trust in EDF, a contract of trust that has kept the parties together for 40 years,” he said.

The Daya Bay NPP began commercial operation in 1995. EDF and CGN then launched another project nearby, the Ling Ao NPP, which began commercial operations in 2002. Then in 2008, the two partners set up a joint venture to construct and operate two nuclear reactors based on European Pressurised Reactor technology in Taishan, Guangdong.

CGN said that deepening and expanding cooperation areas “is of great significance to the development of civil nuclear energy in both countries and the business development of the two groups”. Two-way trade between China and France reached $78.9bn in 2023. China is now France’s largest trading partner in Asia, while France ranks as China’s third-largest trading partner within the European Union (EU).

Also, during the visit, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and EDF jointly released a “Bluebook” – a prospective study on nuclear energy to support low carbon transformation. CNNC Chairman Yu Jianfeng said: “China and France, as major nuclear energy-producing countries in the world, play an irreplaceable role in promoting nuclear energy to address climate change and low-carbon.”

CNNC told Global Times that the cooperation between the CNNC and the EDF opens a new chapter in the two countries’ nuclear energy cooperation. EDF has developed and deepened its partnership with the CNNC over a long period. The two sides regularly hold high-level meetings, and cooperation covers multiple areas such as nuclear power research and development, construction, operation and maintenance, and fuel. The two companies participated in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) nuclear safety standards development work, especially the Nuclear Harmonisation and Standardisation Initiative (NHSI) small modular reactor regulatory forum activities. The EDF and the CNNC have also made important contributions to the standardisation work of international standardisation organisations and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

According to Global Times, in the more than 40 years of nuclear energy technology cooperation, CNNC and the French Atomic Energy Commission have established seven collaborative laboratories in areas such as reactor thermal hydraulics, severe accident management, ageing and life management of pressurised water reactors, fast reactors, nuclear fusion, geological disposal of high-level radioactive waste, decommissioning, and radioactive waste management. The two sides also signed and implemented over 500 special cooperation projects.

CNNC has also formed a consortium with Framatome to successfully bid for and implement the main machine installation project of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), and have good cooperation with the Orano Group in areas such as the research on uranium resources. In September 2019, the China-France TAC-1 Consortium led by the CNNC signed an installation contract with the ITER for core equipment of the tokamak. In February 2024, the ITER Organisation signed a new the vacuum chamber module assembly contract with the consortium.

Global Times reported that the “Bluebook” is the first strategic planning soft science cooperation between Chinese state-owned nuclear energy enterprises and partners in developed Western countries in recent. It was included in plans agreed during French President Macron’s visit to China in 2023, according to Luo Qingping, President of CNNC’s China Institute of Nuclear Industry Strategy.

The release of the Bluebook at the historical moment of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France can also be seen as the opening of a new chapter in the nuclear energy cooperation of the two countries. In the future, China and France can combine the contents of the “bluebook” to deepen cooperation in promoting nuclear energy development, including cooperation in exploring third-party markets.

The Bluebook describes the current status of nuclear energy development and good practices in China and France. It proposes three initiatives:

  • China and France jointly advocate that every country in the world has the right to develop nuclear power, but safety must be the top priority in the development process;
  • Nuclear energy can effectively support low-carbon development. Future nuclear energy technologies such as small modular reactors and nuclear fusion are important solutions to the global energy problem.
  • Urgent action is needed to address the crisis caused by climate change. Energy transformation is imperative, and the development of nuclear power is undoubtedly an effective approach.

China and France will continue to deepen cooperation in multiple areas such as nuclear engineering, nuclear power operation, and nuclear fuel cycle. They will promote the synergy between nuclear energy and renewable energy, formulate public policies focusing on low-carbon growth, accelerate the development of renewable energy such as hydropower, wind power, solar power, and geothermal energy, extend the lifespan of existing NPPs, initiate new nuclear power construction projects, and optimise the cost of energy transition.

They will cooperate to promote advanced nuclear energy technologies such as small modular reactors and fusion reactors. They will work together to advance the commercial deployment of small modular reactors. They will also strengthen international cooperation in the field of nuclear fusion research, Global Times noted, citing CNNC.

At the same time, they will promote the comprehensive application of nuclear energy; popularise technologies such as nuclear heating, seawater desalination, and hydrogen production; diversify forms of nuclear energy utilisation, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They will also conduct research on the impact of climate change using nuclear technology to address issues such as water scarcity, soil erosion, land degradation, and increased diseases and pests in plants and animals caused by climate change.