Nuclear reactors – EU divided, Macron wants 14 new reactors for France

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

French President Emmanuel Macron has declared the revival of the country’s nuclear power a priority in the transition from fossil fuels to clean sources and called for up to 14 reactors to be built in the country.

In a speech at a turbine plant in eastern France, Macron presented his vision for energy two months before the presidential election, which could be highly contested. In practice, the implementation of this idea depends on whether he will be re-elected.

According to him, despite the hesitation to continue the development of the sector after the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, it is necessary to rely “boldly” on the technology and renewable energy, AFP reported.

What exactly does Macron offer?

Macron plans to order six new generation EPR2 reactors from the state-controlled giant EDF.

In addition, studies need to be launched on whether eight more are to be added.

The president also wants to extend the life of all existing French reactors.

EUR 1 billion will be provided to develop innovative new small reactors.

Divisions in Europe

“We will have to produce much more electricity than the current volumes,” Macron said. His thesis is that France still cannot rely on renewables to replace fossil fuels, and nuclear energy can help developed economies in transition.

The French economy has relied heavily on nuclear energy since the 1970s, but delays and swollen reactor production costs, along with questions about the safety and fate of radioactive waste, have been (and still are) the reason for the debate over whether to be preserved. In the case of the new generation of EDF reactors, production has risen four times over the initial budget of 3.3 billion euros, and refuelling has been delayed for 11 years.

In Germany, the issue was resolved after Fukushima by phasing out nuclear energy this year. The approach to nuclear projects in the EU is still under discussion.

European Commission proposal to classify nuclear energy and natural gas as green

This month, the European Commission declared that nuclear energy and natural gas be treated as sustainable energies but set conditions that projects must meet to be classified as supporting the green transition to a carbon-neutral economy. The implementation of such projects will not be long, as they are proposed to be licensed by 2030 for gas and 2045 for nuclear. However, EU Financial Services Commissioner Marede McGuinness acknowledges that EU plans there is no abandonment of nuclear energy after the middle of the century.

“The reason for the inclusion of gas and nuclear energy is that we firmly believe that these energy sources are necessary for the transition,” said EU Financial Services Commissioner Marede McGuinness.

McGuinness said that EUs had no consensus over nuclear energy and natural gas classification but was supported by a “significant majority”. Act 10 will now be formally adopted after getting translated into other European languages. Many countries, including Austria and Luxembourg, have announced that they will approach the European Court of Justice.

McGuinness said that the two sources were included in the Sustainable energy list is based on scientific argument and was taken after lengthy consultations with the European institutions, experts and member states. The Commission adopted act 10 after many months after the first decision, which concerned access to green finance for 140 economic activities, covering 40% of European business and 80% of CO2 emissions. It came into force in early 2022.

Nuclear energy currently provides 25% of the European Union’s electricity and half of its low-carbon electricity.

Nuclear energy in France

About 90% of French electricity comes from decarbonized energies, and nuclear power plants produce more than 70% of electricity. Due to the predominance of low-carbon technologies, the French electricity fleet has very low levels of CO₂ emissions compared to other European countries.

There are 58 nuclear reactors in France spread over 19 sites. An EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) type reactor is under construction on the Flamanville site. France comes in second place behind the United States on the reactor count. Unlike the U.S., nuclear occupies the most crucial place in the electricity mix in France.

The French government has approved the shutdown of the two Fessenheim nuclear reactors, which should occur between the end of 2018 and 2019. However, this shutdown is subject to the date of commissioning of the Flamanville EPR 3.

All French nuclear reactors are included in a vast investment program, called “grand carénage”, spread over the period 2014 – 2025. The objective is twofold: increase the level of reactor safety by taking into account national and international experience feedback, and extend their service life beyond 40 years.

Other EU countries who want to build reactors

“In order to safely extend the operational life of nuclear power plants, investments of 45 to 50 billion euros are needed. In addition, more than ten EU Member States currently plan to invest around 400 billion euros in new nuclear power plants, which will be operational by 2050. Question of ensuring that the current nuclear capacity in Europe will be guaranteed in the future. Financing costs will play a key role in making nuclear energy competitive,” said Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, during her opening speech at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris (WNE) in December 2021.

The Netherlands plan to build two new nuclear power stations, and the Borssele nuclear power plant will be allowed to stay open longer than the planned 60 years. i.e., until after 2033. Belarus plans two reactors by 2025. Bulgaria is considering a new reactor at its Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. Slovakia plans to add two reactors at its Mohovce Nuclear Power Plant. 

Other EU countries have taken the route of enhancing and upgrading the production of the existing plants. 

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