France’s nuclear industry signs strategic contract for future projects

31 January 2019

The French nuclear industry on 28 January signed a strategic contract with the government and unions for 2019-2022, proposing an action plan for the industry to push ahead with "high-stake" projects.

"The French civil nuclear industry sector is an integrated sector, whose activities - with the support of research and development - are structured around the fuel cycle, the operation of nuclear power reactors and decommissioning activities, and the management and disposal of radioactive waste," said a joint statement from the ministries of Ecological & Solidarity Transition and Economy & Finance.

It noted that the nuclear industry represents 2600 enterprises (85% being  small- and medium-sized), accounts for 220,000 direct and indirect jobs, and has a turnover of €50 billion ($57 billion), 22% of which is from exports. The strategic contract omprises reciprocal commitments intended to support the realisation of "high stake" projects. These  focus on four areas: employment, skills and training; the digital transformation of the industry; R&D and the "ecological transformation" of the sector; and the international market.

Under the strategic contract, Framatome will develop a new version of the EPR large reactors, and will work with EDF and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission to develop a small modular reactor using French technology. Framatome Chairman and CEO Bernard Fontana said the contract defines a roadmap and “reciprocal commitments between industry, the state and trade unions to build the future of the nuclear industry and support the achievement of projects with high stakes, particularly on skills, digital transformation, R&D and exports”.

Minister for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition François de Rugy said:
"The progress of the strategic contract is important for the sector. This contract will give it the necessary visibility to face the challenges of multi-year energy programming that will achieve a 50% share of electricity in the mix in 2035."

In |November 2018, President Emmanuel Macron announced that 14 of France’s 58 power reactors (all 900MWe units) will be shut down to reduce the share of nuclear in electricity generation mix from 75% to 50% by 2035 in accordance with electoral pledges and the Energy Transition for Green Growth Law, which was adopted in August 2015. However, he said the reductions must be at a pace which allows France to retain energy sovereignty.

The  new energy strategy includes the closure of 4-6 reactors by 2028. De Rugy on 30 January stressed the importance of nuclear  in the strategy and said the closures do not indicate that the government has a nuclear exit strategy “but a rebalancing in which nuclear has its place”.

“We consider that in the production of electricity in France, and probably in Europe and in the world, nuclear power can play a role since it presents a completely carbon-free production.”  He added that the government is waiting for EDF’s proposals, due in 2021, before deciding on the construction of any new EPR reactors. The decision would be based on cost, funding assessments and technical feasibility, he noted and said the government would wait for the start of the Flamanville 3 EPR, the only one under construction in France.

The  plant is delayed and over budget. In 2018, faulty weldings forced EDF to delay start-up of the 1600MWe plant until the second quarter of 2020 and announce an increase in cost to €10.5bn and then to €10.9bn, compared with a July 2011 estimate of €8bn.

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