Macron: Nuclear 'absolutely key' to France's future

13 October 2021

Nuclear power was at the heart of French President Emmanuel Macron's France 2030 plan for re-industrialisation, announced yesterday. The plan includes a programme to demonstrate small reactor technology and mass production of hydrogen using nuclear electricity in this decade.

Emmanuel Macron sets out his France 2030 vision at the Elysee Palace, yesterday (Image: Elysee)

With a presidential election six months away, Macron presented France 2030 as his near term "response to the great challenges of our time" and a way to build a "21st Century humanism". 

Macron's first conviction, he said in his speech at the Elysee Palace, was that innovation and industrialisation are inextricably linked, and it had been a mistake for France to think it could be innovative while letting its heavier industries decline. "Our country is going to reindustrialise itself through technological start-ups and what is called 'deep tech'," said Macron. "And our large industrial groups will survive, transform and win the game thanks to the disruptive innovation of startups that they will have incubated or that they will have bought or with which they will have partnerships."

Accordingly, 'Reinventing Nuclear Power' was placed as the first objective in Macron's plan, with EUR1 billion (USD1.2 billion) allocated to demonstrate small nuclear reactor technology. He said this programme would be "starting very quickly with very clear first projects," adding that, "In fact, we must launch several projects from different technological families."

Macron said that as a core production technology, nuclear merited first position in the plan. Continuing to develop nuclear power "is absolutely key because we know that we will continue to need this technology," he said.

On large reactors, Macron told the crowd he would be able to make his decision on the potential construction of up to six large reactors "in coming weeks", anticipating the completion of a pivotal study by Prime Minister Jean Castex and the transmission network operator RTE.

Macron's second objective also had a close relation to the country's nuclear sector. Hydrogen, he said, "is really an energy sector where we can do it because we have assets. We have a primary asset, it is once again nuclear power."

The possibility of using clean electricity from France's fleet of 56 nuclear reactors is "a huge change" that "will allow us to be a leader" in the emerging hydrogen sector, Macron said. He foresees hydrogen replacing liquid fuels for road transport. In the hydrogen sector, "We have very good research, we have very good players: Air Liquide and a few other manufacturers. In addition, we have a network of start-ups, equipment manufacturers, entrepreneurs, innovators who are ready to go and who are organised."

A serious commitment to hydrogen is needed, Macron said, to avoid repeating the country's mistake in renewables, which he said was to invest too little. "We must develop our industrial offer in hydrogen and therefore invest massively in this sector. This means that by 2030, France must be able to count on its soil at least two giga-factories of electrolysers in order to massively produce hydrogen and all the technologies needed for its use."

"It is this triptych," Macron said, "nuclear, hydrogen and renewable energies" and their breakthrough innovations "that will allow us to produce energy and electricity differently and to start contributing to this world where we produce better, and more carbon-free."

"As you can see, we have real levers. We have real historical advantages, but we have to accept the investments that I have just mentioned in order to achieve these objectives," said Macron.

As well as EUR8 billion across these energy projects, Macron signalled France would "invest massively" to help existing heavy industry decarbonise. "It will be public and private investment," he said, "but without public investment it is impossible, it is unsustainable." In total the France 2030 plan amounts to EUR30 billion of investment.

Macron also said he would use the upcoming French presidency of the European Union to introduce a mechanism to penalise imports from countries where industry operated under less stringent decarbonisation policies.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News