Macron clarifies French energy plans

27 November 2018

A total of 14 power reactors will be shut down in order to reduce the share of nuclear in France's electricity generation mix from the current 75% to 50% by 2035, President Emmanuel Macron announced today.

Fessenheim's two 880 MWe pressurized water reactors have been in operation since 1977 and 1978, respectively (Image: ASN)

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 will 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. Nuclear currently accounts for almost 75% of the country's electricity production.

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.

In a speech at the Elysee palace to clarify France's energy transition, Macron said 14 reactors of 900 MWe capacity will be shut down by 2035.

"I was not elected on a promise to exit nuclear power but to reduce the share of nuclear in our energy mix to 50%," Macron said. He stressed, "To reduce the share of nuclear power is not to give up nuclear power."

France's two oldest reactors - units 1 and 2 at the Fessenheim plant in eastern France - will close in the spring of 2020, he said. Two further reactors will be shut down in 2025/2026, with two more following in 2027-2028. The remaining reactors would close by 2035. Macron said there would be no complete closure of any existing nuclear power plant site.

The closure schedule will depend on the transition of France's energy mix, including the planned increase of renewable energy sources and the expansion of interconnection capacity with neighbouring countries. Macron said reactors would only be shut on the condition that "security of supply is ensured". In addition, neighbouring countries will need to accelerate their energy transition, reduce their generating capacity from coal-fuelled plants and "massively" develop renewables, "which would lead to low prices for electricity in the European markets".

A press release from the Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition said: "The government will maintain a dialogue with EDF in order to plan this decrease [in nuclear capacity] and designate sites on which the closures will be made." It says closures should take place primarily at the sites housing the country's oldest reactors: Blayais, Bugey, Chinon, Cruas, Dampierre, Gravelines, Saint-Laurent and Tricastin. However, it will be up to EDF to specify which reactors will be closed. "The final confirmation of the reactors to be shut down will take place at least three years before the date of effective closure of the chosen reactors," the ministry said.

The government noted that it is not possible to determine with certainty what will be the most competitive form of electricity generation with which to replace the current fleet of nuclear reactors beyond 2035. It therefore wants to maintain the option for possible future new reactors.

Macron said he has requested state-owned EDF to "work on the development of a new nuclear programme". The government will lead a work programme with EDF on industrial capacity issues of the nuclear industry, "economic optimisation" of the EPR reactor design, storage of waste from a new reactor fleet, financing models, as well as regulatory and legal procedures. A decision to proceed with nuclear new build is to be taken in 2021.

Macron also announced that France will close its four remaining coal-fired power plants by 2022. "This is a pioneering measure. Because the reality is that, all over the world, alas, not only are we not closing, but we are opening up new coal-fired power plants."

He also announced that support for renewables will increase from the current EUR5 billion to between EUR7 and EUR8 billion per year. Onshore wind capacity will be trebled and photovoltaic capacity increased five-fold by 2030. Offshore wind will also be developed.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News