French President Emmanuel Macron announced the government's revised energy roadmap on November 27. The plan calls for France to shut its remaining coal-fired power plants by 2022, shut 14 nuclear reactors by 2035, and increase investment in renewables.1
The closure of 14 power reactors will reduce nuclear's share of electricity generation to 50%. France's two oldest reactors ‒ at the Fessenheim plant ‒ will close in 2020, two further reactors will be shut down in 2025/26, two more in 2027/28, and the remaining reactors will close by 2035.2
The new plan replaces the previous, legislated plan to cap nuclear at 63.2 gigawatts capacity and to reduce nuclear's share to 50% by 2025. The new plan will be legislated and may be modified during that process.
The government wants to make a decision about whether or not to support the construction of new reactors by 2021. Macron said he has asked EDF to "work on the development of a new nuclear programme" including issues such as industrial capacity issues, "economic optimisation" of the EPR reactor design (EPR reactors under construction in Flamanville and Finland are three times over budget and years behind schedule), waste management, financing models, and regulatory and legal issues.2 He said France needs EPR technology for "sovereignty issues" and that France must maintain an industrial capacity to build new reactors.3
The new energy roadmap fell short of EDF's expectations: EDF said during the consultation process that it "envisages certain closures" of nuclear reactors "starting 2029".4 And the roadmap fell short of environmentalists' expectations. Alix Mazounie, energy campaigner with Greenpeace France, said: "For the umpteenth time, the government is bowing to the nuclear lobby. This incoherent plan resembles, no more and no less, EDF's plan: to play the watch and preserve nuclear power at all costs. All this by obscuring the reality of the French nuclear fleet: aging, poorly, teeming with anomalies, increasingly expensive and increasingly dangerous."5
Greenpeace France took aim at the Flamanville fiasco, stating that "the Flamanville EPR now has a delay of more than 7 years, very serious manufacturing defects in the heart of the reactor, a bill of more than 10 billion euros and a cost of production twice that of renewable energies."5 Greenpeace France also questioned the technical and economic feasibility of securing license extensions for the aging French nuclear reactor fleet ‒ a program with an estimated price-tag of at least €100 billion ‒ while EDF is already heavily indebted.5
The average age of France's 58 power reactors was 33.4 years in mid-2018.5 French nuclear safety expert Yves Marignac, director of WISE-Paris, noted that by the end of 2035, the 44 reactors that still operate will reach an average age of 49.5 years.6 Energy consultant Mycle Schneider said: "Macron expects that at least three quarters of French nuclear power plants will remain in operation for 50 years or more, an assumption without any technical or regulatory basis."6
The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018 said in its September 2018 report: "Operating costs have increased substantially over the past years. Investments for life extensions will need to be balanced against the already excessive nuclear share in the power mix, the stagnating or decreasing electricity consumption in France ‒ it has been roughly stable for the past decade ‒ and in the European Union (EU) as a whole, the shrinking client base, successful competitors, and the energy efficiency and renewable energy production targets set at both the EU and the French levels. ... And in a structural overcapacity situation, like throughout Europe, with still continuously increasing renewable energy capacities, competition will only increase. In fact, it seems impossible to exclude today a scenario, where a significant number of reactors will be shut down, as they cannot compete in the market (just as is already happening in the U.S.)."4
Macron also said that he wants to continue the French plutonium / reprocessing industry. Schneider responded: "The idea that the ailing La Hague facilities could run until 2040 is downright adventurous. It's not even clear whether the evaporators ‒ a central element of the plant ‒ will last until new ones become available." Schneider noted that numerous other countries have abandoned spent fuel reprocessing for economic reasons.6
The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018 stated: "Orano (ex-AREVA), in its contribution to the public debate, stipulates that "the number of reactor closures must not exceed the minimum threshold that allows the continued operation of the fuel cycle facilities and to maintain the French technological excellence". An interesting logic: keep operating otherwise not needed power generating plants in order to provide business for otherwise not needed fuel chain facilities. Orano refers here to its plutonium activities, spent fuel reprocessing and uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication. Indeed, the twenty-four 900 MW units licensed to operate with MOX fuel are also amongst the oldest reactors in France. Every MOX-absorbing unit closed, means five percent less plutonium absorption capacity. EDF is now virtually Orano's only client for the La Hague reprocessing plant and buys the vast majority of the MOX fabricated in the MELOX plant in Marcoule."4
The World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that nuclear power is in slow decline in France, accounting for 71.6% of the country's electricity generation in 2017, the lowest share since 1988 and 7% below the peak of 78.5% in 2005.4 The report noted that "one of the reasons for the continuous decline in nuclear production is the snow-balling effect of ongoing investigations into irregularities in quality-control documentation and manufacturing defects (especially excessive carbon content of steel) of components produced by AREVA's Creusot Forge and a Japanese AREVA sub-contractor, leading to multiple reactor shutdowns, starting in November 2016. The problems continue in 2018. ... In the second quarter of the year, EDF had between 13 and 20 reactors or 14–23 GW off-line (this does not include output reductions), about one third of its fleet, at any point in time."4
In September 2018, French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot resigned in frustration over what he said was "sluggish progress" on climate goals and nuclear energy policy.3 He said the President was not fulfilling his pledge to cut the share of nuclear power to 50% by 2025 and to boost renewable energy, and that investments made in the nuclear industry, like the very expensive bailout of Areva, slow down the development of a renewable energy sector.
Hulot said last year that EDF's structure might have to change to allow it to embrace a transition towards environmentally friendly energy rather than "resist" it.7 The government plans a restructure of EDF, but it seems the motivation is to prop up the nuclear industry rather than embracing a transition to renewables. The government has asked EDF to make proposals about changes to its structure7, and the government has flagged increasing its 83.7% stake in EDF.8Reuters reported: "Financial markets have long speculated that EDF's nuclear activities could be put into a separate legal structure and renationalized, which would allow the state to subsidize the business ..."8
Macron announced that support for renewables will increase from the current €5 billion to €7‒8 billion per year with the aim of renewables generating 40% of electricity supply by 2035. The plan is to treble onshore wind capacity (and to develop offshore wind power), and to increase solar PV capacity five-fold (from 8.5 GW to 45 GW) by 2030.1,4
Michèle Rivasi, nuclear power spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said on November 27: "Today's announcement cannot hide the general nuclear agenda of the French government. President Emmanuel Macron talks about 'nouveau nucléaire' such as the Evolutionary Power Reactor that produce much more expensive electricity than renewable energies and are still difficult to control and risky. Mr Macron needs to do far more if he wants a green and social energy transition. It's time to start taxing carbon emissions and making companies pay their fair share towards a cleaner tomorrow. France has a key role to play in the EU meeting its Paris Climate Commitments, and right now the French government needs to be far more ambitious and more radical if we are to avoid climate catastrophe."9
EDF is hedging its bets, pursuing its nuclear agenda while also investing in renewables. EDF's CEO claimed last year that its "renewables and services activities" constitute its "key growth drivers".10 The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018 stated: "EDF's total net installed renewables capacity (excluding large hydro) in the world remains modest with 9.4 GW producing 3 percent of EDF's electricity. However, in December 2017, the group announced a "solar plan" with a target of 30 GW installed over a period of 15 years between 2020 and 2035 for an investment of €25 billion (US$29.5 billion). To put this figure into perspective, China added 53 GW in 2017."4
France's environment ministry ADEME released a report finding that France will save €39 billion (US$44.5 billion) if it refrains from building 15 new nuclear plants by 2060, and instead replaces reactors with renewable energy sources.11
France should spend €1.28 trillion over the next four decades, the report states, mostly on clean power production and storage capacities, networks, and imports. If it does this, France would progressively shut down its 58 reactors and renewable energy would comprise 85% of electricity generation by 2050 and 95% by 2060, up from 17% last year.12
Bloomberg reported: "Falling costs means that photo-voltaic facilities won't need subsidies from 2030, nor will onshore wind from 2035, the [ADEME] report said. That's assuming that EDF halts 30 percent of its reactors after 40 years of operation and an additional 30 percent when they turn 50. Otherwise, surplus production capacity would undermine the economics of both nuclear power and renewables, ADEME said. The study doesn't take into account the impact on jobs, industry and the environment. However, "we're expecting job creations in renewables and energy efficiency to largely make up for job losses in the nuclear industry," said ADEME Chairman Arnaud Leroy."12
ADEME is sceptical about the future of EPR nuclear technology. Reuters reported:13
""The development of an EPR-based nuclear industry would not be competitive," ADEME said, adding that new nuclear plants would be structurally loss-making. Building a single EPR in 2030 would require 4 to 6 billion euros of subsidies, while building a fleet of 15 with a total capacity of 24 gigawatt-hour by 2060 would cost the state 39 billion euros, despite economies of scale that could bring down the EPR costs to 70 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh), ADEME said.
"Renewables costs could fall to between 32 and 80 euros/MWh, depending on the technology, by 2060. But extending the existing fleet too long, while also building new EPRs, would lead to overcapacity, compromising returns on all generation assets, including renewables. EDF ‒ which generates about 75 percent of French electricity with 58 nuclear reactors ‒ declined to comment.
"The ADEME report, which studied energy mix scenarios for 2020-2060, said renewables could account for 85 percent of power generation by 2050 and more than 95 percent by 2060, except if the government pushes through the EPR option anyway. The gradual increase of renewables capacity could reduce the pre-tax electricity cost for consumers ‒ including generation, grids and storage ‒ to about 90 euros per MWh, compared to nearly 100 euros today, ADEME said. ...
"In 2015, a ADEME study suggesting that France could switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 at a cost similar to sticking with nuclear was barred from publication for months by the government."
1. Joshua S. Hill, 28 Nov 2018, 'France turns to wind and solar as it plans to exit coal, and phase down nuclear', https://reneweconomy.com.au/france-turns-to-wind-and-solar-as-it-plans-t...
2. World Nuclear Association, 27 Nov 2018, 'Macron clarifies French energy plans', www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Macron-clarifies-French-energy-plans
3. Dan Yurman, 2 Dec 2018, 'Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?', http://neutronbytes.com/2018/12/02/will-france-fry-its-nuclear-future-fo...
4. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018', www.worldnuclearreport.org/World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2018-HTM...
5. Greenpeace France, 27 Nov 2018, 'EPP / SNBC: decryption of Greenpeace France', www.greenpeace.fr/espace-presse/ppe-snbc-decryptage-de-greenpeace-france/
6. Georg Blume, 1 Dec 2018, 'Macron, the nuclear lobbyist', www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/emmanuel-macron-der-atomlobbyist-neue... and www.worldnuclearreport.org/Der-Spiegel-Germany-Macron-der-Atomlobbyist.html
7. Financial Times, 27 Nov 2018, www.ft.com/content/42bf2364-f262-11e8-ae55-df4bf40f9d0d
8. Reuters, 27 Nov 2018, 'EDF restructuring expected as France reduces reliance on nuclear', https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-france-energy/france-to-reduce-relianc...
9. EU Reporter, 28 Nov 2018, www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2018/11/28/closure-of-fessenheim-cannot-hide...
10. EDF, "Half-Year Results 2017", Conference call Jean-Bernard Lévy with Analysts and Investors, 28 July 2017, cited in Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018', www.worldnuclearreport.org/World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2018-HTM...
11. ADEME, 10 Dec 2018, 'Étude : Quelle Trajectoire D'évolution du #Mix #Électrique Français D'ici 2060?', https://presse.ademe.fr/2018/12/etude-quelle-trajectoire-devolution-du-m...
12. Francois De Beaupuy, 11 Dec 2018, 'France Would Save $44.5 Billion by Betting on Renewable Energy, Agency Says', www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-10/french-power-costs-will-rise-...
13. Geert De Clercq / Reuters, 11 Dec 2018, 'Building new nuclear plants in France uneconomical - environment agency', https://uk.reuters.com/article/france-nuclearpower/building-new-nuclear-...