For or against nuclear ? “It is a low-carbon technology”

Valérie Faudon is the General Delegate of the French Nuclear Energy Society, a scientific association disseminating knowledge on nuclear science and technology.

“Among the current plants, the first units are starting to reach 40 years old. Work is underway to extend them to 50 years. It is possible that the Nuclear Safety Authority will then request new work to extend their lifespan to 60 years. But beyond that, there is no certainty.

The Chairman has therefore announced that he wishes to launch the construction of six new EPRs immediately and launch the study for eight additional ones – ie 14 EPRs by 2050. The idea is to replace the existing plants. From 2040, we will have what is called a “cliff effect”, that is to say the closure of a certain number of reactors at the same time.

Get out of fossil fuels

The primary reason for this program is to ensure the security of France’s electricity supply. To achieve carbon neutrality, we must completely get out of fossil fuels. It is therefore planned to reduce the consumption of these energies and to increase that of electricity.

The Electricity Transmission Network has developed six scenarios to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – three without renewal of the nuclear fleet and three with renewal. If we compare the best all-renewable scenario with the median scenario including 40% nuclear (against almost 70% today), the latter costs 10 billion euros less per year.

In terms of production cost, nuclear and renewables are equal. What makes the difference is that electricity cannot be stored and solar and wind do not work all the time. There are two ways to circumvent these pitfalls: hydroelectricity and hydrogen turbines, in which it would be necessary to invest massively in a scenario without renewal of the nuclear fleet. No country has implemented this on an industrial scale; it is both costly and very uncertain.

A continuous and rhythmic construction program

The uncertainty of the scenarios including nuclear concerns our ability to build enough reactors by 2050. For all-renewables, it concerns two subjects: the means of storage flexibility which do not exist and the speed of its deployment to achieve the objectives set. This is a higher rate of development than what the Germans and the British have been able to do so far. Will people accept it?

There will be no regrets in building these six new EPRs. First, because these units operate with a very high level of availability; then because it is a low-carbon technology recognized by the IPCC to fight against global warming.

The Flamanville experience (whose shipyard is 10 years late and has seen its bill explode, editor’s note) showed us that when you build discontinuously, you lose skill. It is therefore extremely important to have a continuous and rhythmic program of construction.

The EPR2, progress

The first two pairs of EPRs are planned for the Penly (Seine-Maritime) and Gravelines (Nord) sites, both by the sea. The third has not yet been decided, but two sites are anticipated: at Bugey (Ain) or Tricastin (Drôme and Vaucluse). They are chosen on the basis of available space, quality of the cold source and support for local policies.

The EPR2 looks a lot like the EPR, but it’s easier to build. When we start construction, we will have already built six EPRs: one in China (shutdown for a year after the discovery of a fuel rod sealing problem, editor’s note), one in France, two in Finland (whose commissioning has just been postponed after already 12 years of delay) and two in England (whose delivery should be two years late).

With regard to waste, it is planned to use the current reprocessing chain, with final storage on the Bure site. It will have to be resized, but we are talking about six new reactors planned to replace current reactors in a fleet that currently has 56. This is therefore not a disruption for our waste management strategy. »

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