France puts €1 billion into future nuclear

15 December 2009

Next-generation nuclear is to receive a billion-euro boost thanks to a French investment program. Meanwhile the country's main nuclear research body has been re-branded.


Sarkozy (A.Arraou)
President Nicolas Sarkozy explains his
plans yesterday (Image: A.Arraou)
Initial details of a spending plan worth €35 billion ($51 billion) were announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday. It is meant to address a decline in the productivity of the French workforce since the 1980s by supporting the development of new technologies in partnership with small and medium-sized companies.


Funded by loans from the international markets and the repayment of emergency loans by banks, the largest part of the spending is €7.7 billion ($11 billion) to establish centres of research excellence.


The portion on sustainable development included €1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) to support and demonstrate new energy technology including carbon capture with geologic storage. Another €1 billion ($1.4 billion) is earmarked to bring together researchers and business in five to ten public-private institutes. The government announcement said that there was equal investment for nuclear and renewables in its plans, in line with commitments.


Some €1 billion was dedicated to Generation IV nuclear power reactors, which official documents noted would be even safer and use less uranium than current designs. There are as yet no details of timescales or potential projects, but one possibility could be a demonstration of the Antares high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, which Areva has previously proposed. Older documents from the company promoted a program to develop a commercially competitive model of the 600 MWt modular design which could be suitable for process hear applications such as hydrogen production.


The CEA is renamed The CEA


Another move under France's "commitment to absolute parity" for investment in nuclear and renewables is the rebranding of the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (Atomic Energy Commission, CEA).


Having long been a leader in renewable and alternative energy research, the organisation is from now on to be known as the Commission of Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy - for which French officials have decided to use the same initials, CEA.


Sarkozy said: "The CEA has technological expertise unsurpassed in the nuclear field, but this also allows it to be at the forefront of global research in solar, biofuels and storage of energy... Tomorrow, I hope it still deepens the guidelines for other low-carbon energy forms."

Fast moves? Not exactly...

There are two worldwide programs to develop next-generation reactors, which both enjoy wide international membership and support. However, progress is seen as slow, and several potential designs have been undergoing evaluation on paper for many years. One initiative is the Generation IV International Forum, consisting of a group of governments; the other is Inpro, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In practical terms the US Department of Energy (DoE) appeared a leader thanks to plans to deploy a prototype, the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, at Idaho by 2010, but this has suffered stop-go funding and start-up in the 2020s is now likely. Currently the project is moving forward with the DoE contracting businesses for scientific studies.
In Russia a project was begun for a initial General Atomics GT-MHR unit - very similar to Antares - but this faltered in the early 2000s

And South African advocates of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor claim Generation IV status for it but the nation has severe difficulty with financing.