France: energy policy in flux

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#844
4646
25/05/2017
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

On May 17, incoming French President Emmanuel Macron appointed well-known environmentalist Nicolas Hulot as the new environment minister, with responsibilities including energy policy, sparking a 7% drop in the share price of nuclear utility EDF.1 Hulot supported Macron's left-wing rival Jean-Luc Melenchon in the recent presidential election.

Interviewed in April, Hulot said: "While elsewhere the energy transition accelerates, EDF gets closer to Areva, overinvests in costly nuclear projects like Hinkley Point, and does not invest enough in renewables."2 After his ministerial appointment, Hulot said that he would advance the 2015 legislation that calls for nuclear power's contribution to electricity supply to be reduced from 75% to 50% by 2025: "In 2025, the share of nuclear compared to what it was yesterday and not tomorrow must be 50 percent."3

President Macron has repeatedly stated his intention to support the expansion of renewables by simplifying authorization processes, initiating a tender for 26 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity by 2022, encouraging research and investment into energy storage and smart grids, and other measures.4,5

However Macron's statements about nuclear power have been somewhat cryptic. In February, he said decisions on the reactor fleet will be made toward the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, once the nuclear safety authority ASN outlines its conditions for approving reactor lifespan extensions.6

In May, after the presidential election, Macron said he plans to pursue the 50% nuclear target by 2025 but "nobody knows, concretely, how to do this".7 (He could start with the April 2015 report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, which shows that 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050 in France is feasible and affordable.8)

In early May, a source close to the Macron campaign team told Reuters that the 2025 timeline to reduce nuclear to 50% might be delayed, only for an official spokesperson for Macron to reaffirm the 2025 timeline.2

Macron as Economy Minister oversaw EDF's recapitalisation and its alliance with Areva, and he was a strong backer of the Hinkley Point project in the UK.9 And he recently appointed Edouard Philippe as the new Prime Minister ‒ Philippe worked for Areva from 2007 to 2010.1

Charlotte Mijeon from Sortir de Nucleaire, a federation of French anti-nuclear groups, said: "Macron's government is not strictly anti-nuclear. During his time as the minister of economy Macron was pushing forward the construction of a nuclear plant in Great Britain. And Prime Minister Edouard Philippe worked as the Director of Public affairs in AREVA. So we can't expect them to be favorable of energy transition."10

Suzanne Dalle from Greenpeace France also expressed skepticism: "We feel like this nomination of Hulot might be an ecological oasis in a desert. We don't know if he will get the power he needs to put in place interesting [policy measures] for the environment."1

After National Assembly elections in June, Macron's party will likely form a governing coalition and the make-up of that coalition will shape energy policy.

French BFM television reported on May 22 that it had an internal EDF document outlining the utility's plan to extend the lifespan of the country's reactors by 10‒20 years, to delay the reduction of nuclear's share of power supply to 50%, and to build 25 new power reactors.11 EDF said on its official Twitter account that it denied the "malicious rumors about the existence of a secret plan which sets back the 50 percent nuclear target to 2050."12

But it's no secret that EDF is lobbying for a nuclear future. After Macron was elected, EDF's Chief Financial Offer Xavier Girre said that EDF "was hoping to convince the Macron government to introduce state subsidies for new nuclear plants, modelled on the British "Contracts for Difference" (CfD) scheme under which EDF is planning to build two nuclear reactors in Hinkley Point, Britain."9

Reuters reported on May 3, citing a "source close to the Macron campaign team", that Macron is considering a CfD scheme.13  EDF is also seeking many tens of billions of euros from taxpayers for reactor safety upgrades, lifespan extensions, decommissioning, waste management, paying for its share of the Hinkley Point project, contributing to the costs of the EDF/Areva restructuring, and perhaps one day paying off its €37 billion debt.

Legal challenges

Greenpeace is filing a complaint with the European Commission arguing that the French government's recapitalization of EDF amounts to illegal state aid for the utility's plan to build nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point.14 Greenpeace said the €3 billion capital injection for EDF in March 2017, plus €3.8 billion of foregone dividends since 2015 (the state took a share dividend instead of a cash dividend) are incompatible with European Union competition law. The EU has investigated and cleared the French state's capital increase and financial rescue package for Areva and has to date raised no objections over the recapitalization of EDF.

In April 2017, Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups filed a legal challenge against the extension of EDF's licence for the construction of the Flamanville reactor in northern France.15 The move was in response to safety concerns over the EPR reactor under construction in Flamanville. The groups said in a statement that the licence, issued in 2007 and renewed this year, should not have been granted because EDF and Areva were aware of technical shortcomings at Areva's Creusot Forge nuclear foundry since 2005. Nuclear regulator ASN is investigating whether the irregularities threaten the safety of the reactor and whether EDF can proceed with Flamanville's start-up in 2018 as planned. ASN says a decision will be made by 21 September 2017 at the latest.

"For more than 10 years, EDF and Areva allowed the manufacturing of faulty components for nuclear plants, including for the EPR in Flamanville, and the ASN has allowed this," the group's statement said.15 One member of the group, l'Observatoire du Nucléaire, said in a separate statement that ASN committed a major error in December 2013 by allowing EDF to install the reactor containment vessel in the Flamanville reactor despite being aware of the problems: "This is an unacceptable option for EDF, which is putting maximum pressure on the ASN to force it to validate the use of this faulty vessel."15

In mid-April, ASN defined the preconditions for the resumption of operations at Creusot Forge.16 The facility has been out of operation since December 2015 following the discovery of quality assurance problems including "irregularities" in paperwork on some 400 plant components.

There are three processes currently under way, ASN said in April:17

  • the search for technical anomalies on other EDF reactor components similar to those detected on the Flamanville EPR vessel, which has enabled EDF to identify similar anomalies on the channel heads of certain steam generators;
  • manufacturing quality reviews on parts at Areva manufacturing plants; and
  • initiation of a review of basic nuclear installation licensee monitoring of their contractors and subcontractors, of ASN oversight and of alert mechanisms.

In a January 31 letter to Areva, ASN said its considered a certain number of subjects needed to be adapted and supplemented by Areva, such as management of change, human resources, exhaustiveness of root cause analyses, detection of irregular practices, reviews of manufactured component files, management of current manufacturing processes, internal monitoring by Creusot Forge and the nuclear safety culture.16

References:

1. Deutsche Welle, 23 May 2017, 'Macron's new environment chief: Greenwashing or green leading?', www.dw.com/en/macrons-new-environment-chief-greenwashing-or-green-leadin...

2. Geert De Clercq and Benjamin Mallet / Reuters, 17 May 2017, 'Green activist Hulot named French ecology minister, EDF stock slumps', http://uk.reuters.com/article/france-election-government-energy-idUKL8N1...

3. Reuters, 18 May 2017, 'French ecology minister says nuclear will be 50 percent by 2025', www.reuters.com/article/france-energy-hulot-idUSP6N1F105H

4. Energy Voice, 8 May 2017, www.energyvoice.com/other-news/138673/macron-wins-french-presidency-mean...

5. Rick Mitchell, 4 May 2017, 'French Presidential Election: Nationalism Meets Environmentalism', www.bna.com/french-presidential-election-n57982087546/

6. Francois De Beaupuy and Helene Fouquet, 27 April 2017, 'Macron May Have to Break His Campaign Promise on Nuclear Power', www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-04-26/macron-weighs-nuclear-opt...

7. 15 May 2017, 'Will Macron complete France's energy transition?', www.euractiv.com/section/electricity/news/will-macron-complete-frances-e...

8. Terje Osmundsen, 20 April 2015, www.energypost.eu/french-government-study-95-renewable-power-mix-cheaper...

L'Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie (ADEME), 2015, 'Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvelable en 2050', www.ademe.fr, http://fr.scribd.com/doc/261245927/le-rapport-100-energies-renouvelables

9. 22 May 2017, 'France: no turning back on nuclear scaledown', http://energypostweekly.eu/may-22-2017-watch/#section_3

10. 23 May 2017, 'France Cautious About Reducing Nuclear Dependence Despite Growing Trend in EU', https://sputniknews.com/europe/201705231053879698-france-nuclear-depende...

11. 23 May 2017, 'EDF eyes lifespan extension of French fleet of 10-20 years: BFM TV', www.kallanishenergy.com/2017/05/23/edf-eyes-lifespan-extension-of-french...

12. Geert de Clercq and Bate Felix / Reuters, 22 May 2017, 'France's EDF denies report of 'secret plan' to delay scaling back nuclear power', www.reuters.com/article/us-france-nuclear-edf-idUSKBN18I0PI

13. Geert De Clercq and Benjamin Mallet, 3 May 2017, 'Exclusive: France under Macron could delay nuclear cutbacks – source', www.reuters.com/article/us-france-election-macron-nuclearpower-e-idUSKBN...

14. Reuters, 17 May 2017, 'Greenpeace files state aid complaint with EU over EDF recapitalization', www.reuters.com/article/us-edf-britain-subsidies-idUSKCN18D0MV

15. Geert De Clercq / Reuters, 19 April 2017, 'Lobby groups file challenge to France's Flamanville nuclear reactor', http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL8N1HR1N3

16. World Nuclear News, 18 April 2017, 'ASN sets conditions for Creusot Forge restart', www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-ASN-sets-conditions-for-Creusot-Forge-rest...

17 ASN, 14 April 2017, 'ASN defines the preconditions for the resumption of manufacturing in AREVA NP's Creusot Forge plant', www.french-nuclear-safety.fr/Information/News-releases/Resumption-of-man...