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Nuclear energy falls from France’s pride and joy, to its expensive source of woe

plants-downTale of woe in French nuclear sector,, October 13, 2015,  Michael Stothard    Broken government promises, multibillion-euro delays and a key national champion rescued from the brink of failure: it has been a torrid year for the proud French nuclear industry.

Problems came to a head in August when Areva, the designer and builder of nuclear reactors around the world, was forced to strike a multibillion-euro rescue package deal with rival group EDF and the French government. It had been hit by foreign competition, the downturn in global nuclear demand following the 2011 Fukushima disaster and cost overruns. It had not sold a new reactor since 2007. It urgently needed to be put back on a “sound footing” to keep nuclear a “strength for our country,” said Manuel Valls, French prime minister, before the deal to sell much of the company to EDF………

The country is also a torchbearer for nuclear power as part of the European energy mix when many countries have retrenched following Fukushima. “There’s no doubt the global nuclear industry, including in France, is challenged and it is asking itself some profound questions since Fukushima,” says Jean-Marc Ollagnier, chief executive of Accenture’s resources operating group.

But for French nuclear the past five years have been a tale of technical problems and cost overruns that brought Areva to its knees and called into question the country’s ability to deliver on next generation technology.

……..The final problem came in April when the French nuclear regulator discovered flawed steel in EDF’s reactor in Flamanville, prompting EDF to carry out tests………

These construction problems highlight the complexity of the EPR projects, and have led some to question if there is demand for these larger reactors, given their cost and size. The questions come at the same time as internal political ones, as France attempts to reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

President François Hollande, due to a deal struck between the anti-nuclear Green party and his ruling pro-nuclear Socialist party, has promised to reduce nuclear in the French energy mix from 75 to 50 per cent by 2025…….. Even if no plants are shut down for political reasons in the lead-up to 2025 there are still decisions to be made, all of which are likely to be expensive.

The grand carénage, increasing the life expectancy of the 30-year-old plants from their current 40 years to 50 years, is expected to cost EDF around €55bn, should it ever win political approval. Closing one nuclear plant has already proved difficult. Decommissioning Fessenheim, France’s oldest reactor on the German border, was promised by the government to happen by 2016. This year it was delayed until Flamanville comes online in 2018, leaving the government accused of breaking its promises……..

October 14, 2015 - Posted by | France, politics

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