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France’s nuclear power program stalled at best, planned to decline

Even if President Hollande’s plan for the transition stalls, it seems clear at least that there will be no further expansion of nuclear in France.EDF is planning to build two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley in western England with Chinese help, but at Flamanville in Normandy a new reactor of the same EPR design is behind schedule and massively over budget. A second envisaged EPR reactor in France has been shelved indefinitely – and no other new nuclear power stations are planned.

France struggles to cut down on nuclear power By Rob Broom  BBC News, 10 JAN 14 Paris “…….French President Francois Hollande also wants to cut nuclear output sharply – by a third in 20 years. It’s a big ask in a country that now relies on nuclear for 75% of its electricity.

If fully implemented, the pledge would force the closure of up to 20 of the country’s 58 reactors according to Professor Laurence Tubiana a former government adviser who the president asked to facilitate a national debate, paving the way for what they call le transition energetique.

This would be a huge step, but Tubiana describes it as a “logical evolution”.France realised that Japan had survived economically when all its atomic power stations were shut down because of its diverse energy mix. In Japan, before the disaster, nuclear power delivered about 30% of the country’s electricity, but France is hugely dependent not only on nuclear, but on a single generation of nuclear power stations.

It is vulnerable to a “generic risk”, according to Tubiana, where a problem with one reactor could force them all offline for the fault to be fixed. This would cause chaos.

She says the 20 reactors closed in the “transition” could be replaced by renewable energy, which she says would maintain French energy independence and be both “stable and secure”. So far, however, the government has only earmarked one power station for closure – the ageing plant at Fessenheim on the German border – which prompts some to question the government’s commitment to Hollande’s promise……..

At a fashionable Parisian street market I spoke to a number of shoppers, with differing views on nuclear power.

“People need energy, and nuclear is necessary to live,” one smartly dressed woman told me. But others had been unsettled by Fukushima and were concerned about both safety and nuclear waste. “It is very useful but it is very dangerous,” said one elderly man. He would prefer renewable energy, he said, but recognised it would take time to switch.

Meanwhile, the economics of nuclear power are changing too. The safety upgrades forced by Fukushima will cost about 10bn euros (£8bn) and maintenance costs are expected to rise sharply as the nuclear plants age. By the end of 2022, more than one in three French reactors will have been in operation for 40 years or more.

The state-owned utility EDF plans to extend the lives of reactors from 40 to 60 years, but that will cost money too

…..Independent energy analyst Mycle Schneider says that in this environment, the most expensive renewable energy sources could become more competitive than nuclear in less than five years – which is “tomorrow morning in energy policy,” he says.Professor Tubiana says by concentrating on nuclear power France has slipped behind on rival technologies like wind, solar and biomass and it must now take steps to catch up quickly.

“We were very good 20 years ago with solar concentration,” she says. “We are now nowhere. We concentrated all our efforts on one side.”

If France does not create a market for renewable energy it will never be competitive in the sector, she says – while its nuclear industry could still be powerful even in 2050, even under the Hollande plan.

If 50% of electricity continues to be generated by nuclear, that is still an “enormous” figure, she says.

Even if President Hollande’s plan for the transition stalls, it seems clear at least that there will be no further expansion of nuclear in France.EDF is planning to build two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley in western England with Chinese help, but at Flamanville in Normandy a new reactor of the same EPR design is behind schedule and massively over budget. A second envisaged EPR reactor in France has been shelved indefinitely – and no other new nuclear power stations are planned.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25674581

January 11, 2014 - Posted by | France, politics

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