French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing employees at nuclear reactor manufacturer Framatome's production site in Le Creusot, central France, said on 8 December said nuclear power will remain a key part of France's energy supplies.
France plans to reduce its reliance on nuclear energy to 50% from 75% by 2035 and has yet to make a final decision on whether to build next-generation EPR nuclear reactors. That decision is expected before by 2023, by which time EDF's much-delayed Flamanville 3 EPR project should be in operation.
However, Macron said: "The preparatory studies around the construction of new reactors are key and I want them to continue and be wrapped up in the coming months." EDF has already said it plans to unveil a new, cheaper-to-build version of its EPR nuclear reactor by mid-2021.
Macron’s remarks indicated broad support for the nuclear industry, although he has also stressed the need to move more towards renewable energy. He said France's next-generation aircraft carrier would be nuclear-powered.
“Renouncing nuclear energy completely, too quickly, would mean opening coal or gas centres or importing carbon energy, as other countries have done.”
"Our energy and ecological future goes through nuclear," he said.
"I have never been a nuclear supporter at all, but the atom must be a pillar in the years to come." He added that nuclear should be major axis of France's climate policy. "It is non-intermittent energy that emits the least CO2," he said.
Macron said the nuclear industry comprises 3000 companies and 220,000 jobs, with 5000 new hires planned for 2021 in spite of the crisis caused by the pandemic. "Few sectors offer as much, in particular to our young people and all across the country," he said in a tweet.
The Élysée Palace has issued a statement on Macron's "three convictions" that guide the future of French nuclear power: "Our energy and ecological future depends on nuclear power; our economic and industrial future depends on nuclear power; and France's strategic future depends on nuclear power."
By generating more than 41% of the energy in France, "nuclear makes us autonomous", Macron said. "It also preserves French purchasing power, with a kWh on average 40% cheaper than in our European neighbours." Nuclear energy must therefore "continue to be a pillar" of the French energy mix "for decades to come". French nuclear know-how is exported all over the world and has a trade surplus of EUR7 billion and this "major asset needs to be consolidated".
The France Relance recovery plan announced in September includes the government's commitment to invest nearly €500 million ($606 million) in the nuclear sector, including €100 million by 2021 to support key players in the sector affected by the pandemic crisis. This will be supplemented by a €70 million modernisation fund for companies. The recovery plan will also enable development of small modular reactor technology.