French nuclear industry sets medium-term plans

28 January 2019

The French nuclear industry has today signed a strategic contract with the government and unions, covering the period 2019-2022, which proposes an action plan for the industry to succeed in "high-stake" projects.

The signing of the strategic agreement (Image: Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition)

The contract was signed in Paris by Minister for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition François de Rugy, Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire, and Chairman of the Strategic Committee for the Nuclear Industry Dominique Minière.

"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," the ministries said in a joint statement.

The industry, they noted, represents 2600 enterprises (of which 85% are small- and medium-sized), accounts for 220,000 direct and indirect jobs, and has a turnover of EUR50 billion (USD57 billion), of which 22% is from exports.

The strategic contract brings together a set of reciprocal commitments aimed at helping the nuclear industry successfully realise "high stake" projects. The commitments are focussed 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.

The Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition said, "Maintaining and renewing the skills of the sector is an essential condition for its sustainability, its ability to exploit the industrial tool in good conditions (including safety), its capacity for innovation and future development."

The ministry also said, "It is fundamental that the sector adopts a global strategy in this area, which will notably focus on improving its positioning vis-à-vis the market and international organisations and setting up a portfolio of offers that meets the needs of the international market in the coming years."

Under the strategic contract, Framatome will develop a new version of the EPR large reactors, as well as working with EDF and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission to develop a small modular reactor based on French technology.

"This contract defines the 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, said Framatome Chairman and CEO Bernard Fontana.

"Framatome is particularly involved in maintaining and renewing the skills needed for an internationally recognised industry of excellence."

De Rugy and Le Maire said the strategic contract "will make it possible to concretely define the orientations defined by the Multiannual Energy Programme in the field of nuclear energy and to guarantee to the sector the visibility it needs to preserve national know-how and maintain skills in the industry."

"The progress of the strategic contract is important for the sector," said de Rugy. "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."

President Emmanuel Macron announced last November that a total of 14 French power reactors of 900 MWe capacity will be shut down in order to reduce the share of nuclear in the country's electricity generation mix from the current 75% to 50% by 2035.

The 2012 election pledge by former French president Francois Hollande aimed to limit nuclear's share of French generation to 50% by 2025, and to close Fessenheim - the country's oldest plant - by the end of his five-year term, which ended in May last year. In June 2014, following a national energy debate, his government announced the country's nuclear generating capacity would be capped at the current level of 63.2 GWe. It would also be limited to 50% of France's total output by 2025. The French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law was adopted in August 2015.

When he was elected, Macron promised to respect Hollande's target. However, he has said French reductions in nuclear power must be at a pace which allows the country to retain energy sovereignty.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News