France needs nuclear for energy transition, says SFEN

23 February 2017

The French Nuclear Society (SFEN) says the country needs to maintain its nuclear power generation capacity to raise the share of electricity from renewable sources without increasing the cost of electricity production. In a white paper it suggests ways in which this can be achieved.

France's National Assembly gave final approval in July 2016 of the country's Energy Transition for Green Growth bill. The overall objectives of the bill include: a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a 75% reduction by 2050, compared with 1990 levels; halving overall energy consumption by 2050 compared with 2012; increasing renewable energy's share of final energy consumption to 32%; and cutting the share of nuclear in electricity generation from almost 75% to 50% by 2025.

In the white paper, published on 20 February, SFEN says the primary objective of the country's energy transition is to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels. It says France can rely on nuclear energy in order to achieve that objective.

France has already decarbonised its electricity by 94% through its use of nuclear energy and renewables, mainly hydro, SFEN said.

"Replacing renewable energies with nuclear energy does not meet either the CO2 reduction targets or the competitiveness objectives. Replacing nuclear (low-carbon) with renewable energies (low-carbon) does not bring any benefit in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," SFEN said.

"To ensure that greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are met in a constrained budgetary context, each action must be assessed in terms of its climate, environmental and health effectiveness," SFEN said. "It is therefore necessary to link the costs of an action with the savings in CO2 emissions it generates."

The society said it is "imperative" to plan and anticipate the extension and/or replacement of France's existing fleet of nuclear power reactors if the share of renewables is to be increased without the cost of electricity also increasing.

Steady investment in the nuclear fleet is needed to ensure the continued production of low-carbon, competitive electricity and guaranteed energy security, the white paper says. It notes that utility EDF plans to invest €51 billion ($54 billion) by 2025 in its Grand Carénage life extension program.

SFEN said the early closure of the country's oldest nuclear power plant - Fessenheim - is an expense that does not reduce CO2 emissions, but "destroys jobs". The French nuclear safety regulator has already said the two units there could continue to operate safely until 2021 and 2023, respectively.

The white paper expects France to start renewing its nuclear fleet gradually by 2030. It will be able to "draw on feedback" from the EPR units approaching commissioning in China, Finland and France, as well as those planned in the UK. At the same time, the French nuclear industry has launched a project to develop a new version of the EPR - the EPR-NM (New Model) - with the aim of reducing costs by 25-30%. This design is expected to be completed by 2020, for construction by 2030.

The National Alliance for Coordination of Research on Energy has estimated that a 50% reduction in the share of nuclear energy in 2025 would lead, at least initially, to greater CO2 emissions in the electricity sector, despite the large-scale deployment of renewables.

SFEN said the example set by Germany "demonstrates the perverse effects of a hasty transition: higher electricity prices, higher CO2 emissions, and reorganisation of the grid too slowly to absorb new renewable generation".

"The diversification of the electricity mix required by the energy transition law and the strengthening of the share of renewables can be envisaged if technical and economic conditions are met," the white paper concludes.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News