France postpones NPP closures

29 November 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron on 27 November announced a multi-year energy programme (EPP) which included the closure of 14 reactors by 2035. The announcement came amid massive popular protests about increased taxes on gasoline.

The roadmap is intended to guide energy policy for the periods 2019-2023 and 2024-2028, to achieve the objectives of the 2015 Law on Energy Transition (LTE). However, Macron in effect postponed by 10 years the target of reducing the share of nuclear power from more than 70% to 50% of the electricity mix, which the LTE had set at 2025. The target will be changed in the coming months, according to the Ministry for Ecological Transition.

The first of the 14 units to be closed by 2035 will be the two units at  Fessenheim nuclear plant which will be shut down in the summer of 2020 – the only two to be closed during Macron’s five-year term as President. He said two more units would be stopped in 2027-2028  and two more possibly in 2025-2026 "if security of supply is assured" and "if our European neighbours accelerate their energy transition", in particular by reducing the use of coal and developing renewables. The other closures should start from 2029.  

EDF, which had pressed to postpone any closures until after 2029, was to establish which of the oldest 900MWe reactors it would undertake to close at the Tricastin, Bugey, Gravelines and Dampierre, Blayais, Cruas, Chinon  and Saint-Laurent plants, according to a press release from the Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition. Macron ruled out the closure of an entire nuclear site noting that “shutting down reactors is not giving up nuclear power”. He said the increase renewable energies is not linked to the shutdown of reactors and that "it was wrong to say that nuclear could be replaced by renewable energies, the latter being intermittent”.   

Environmental groups were critical of the programme. "By pushing the deadline to reduce the nuclear to 50% in the electricity mix to 2035, by refusing to close any reactors withing five-years apart from Fessenheim, and by postponing the first closures after 2025, the EPP means the extension of very many reactors beyond 40 or even 50 years, Greenpeace said in a statement. “It also ignores the technical and economic feasibility of such an extension programme that will cost at least €100 billion, according to the Court of Accounts, while EDF is already heavily in debt.”

Macron postponed until 2021 any decision on the construction of a new European pressurised reactor (EPR). “I have asked EDF to work on the development of a new nuclear programme by making firm commitments on the price, so that they are more competitive. Everything must be ready in 2021 so that the choice proposed to the French will be a transparent and enlightened.”

Earlier on 19 November, French energy minister Francois De Rugy had cast doubt on the construction of additional EPR nuclear reactors in France. He told Europe 1 radio station: “There are problems with the EPR,” adding that the technology was not proven to be technologically viable, safe or competitive. The EPR currently under construction at Flamanville 3 is significantly behind schedule and over budget, as is the one under construction at the Olkiluoto 3 in Finland. “I don’t see how we can decide today on ordering new EPR reactors. I am discussing with the French nuclear sector and asking them about their plan to make the technology more reliable and more financially viable,” he said.

The government has asked EDF to make proposals for its restructuring, while expressing the wish that it remains "an integrated group". Macron also announced that the government was working on a revision of the Arenh mechanism (Regulated Access to Incumbent Nuclear Electricity) under which alternative power suppliers can buy up to 100TWh of EDF's nuclear output each year for a fixed price.

Support for the development of renewable energy is to be increased from €5 to €7-8 billion a year, said Macron. He also mentioned tripling onshore wind and a fivefold increase in photovoltaics by 2030. The first offshore wind park will be put in service off Saint-Nazaire within five years and four new tenders will be issued.  

The government also announced a target of 40% reduction in fossil fuel consumption by 2040. This will involve  the closure of the four coal plants by 2022; an end to the sale of new vehicles emitting greenhouse gases by 2040; the introduction of a fleet of 4.8 million electric vehicles by 2028; and  maintaining the conversion bonus for the purchase of less polluting vehicles, which came into effect on 1 January 2018. The government plans to focus on replacing oil fired heaters within 10 years. As to the fuel tax protests, Macron only said that fuel taxes could be suspended in the event of a sharp fluctuation in the price of oil and promised a large-scale consultation on ecological and social transition.

 



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