Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?

  • French President Macron announced a plan this week to execute a “cautious reduction” of its nuclear fleet.
  • Despite the promises of Green Party politicians for more a more aggressive schedule, only the Fessenheim nuclear station, built in 1978, is actually scheduled to close by 2020.
  • He said France would cap the amount of electricity it derives from nuclear plants at 50% by 2035, which is a delay compared with the goal of 2025 set by his predecessor Francois Hollande.
  • Macron said France will not phase out nuclear entirely, as its neighbors Germany and Belgium are planning to do.

nucler france wnaMacron said 14 of EDF’s 58 reactors would be closed by 2035, including “four to six” before 2030, two in 2027-28 and possibly two in 2025-26 if this does not jeopardize the security of power supply.

Also, Macron’s plan is less aggressive than what would be in a schedule the country might adopt if it set a deadline for closing plants, without regard to condition, at the 40 year mark. Here’s a scorecard.

  • 32 reactors with power ratings on average of 900 MW reach the 40 year mark in a narrow range of 2023-2028.
  • 20 reactors with power rating on average of 1300 MW reach the 40 year mark in a 10 year range of 2029-2040
  • 2 reactors with power ratings of 1450 MW reach the 40 year mark in 2040.

The problem for France, which Macron has not addressed, is how it it will replace its fleet with a combination of nuclear, gas, and renewables, and how it will upgrade its grid to accommodate the new mix of power sources. France produces more nuclear energy than any other country, getting about 71% of its electricity from its fleet of reactors at 19 nuclear stations.

france reactors wna

Nuclear Power Plants in France. Table: World Nuclear Association

Two Phases of Closures

Nearly half of all the electrical power generated by nuclear plants in France, 27 GWe, comes from plants that hit the 40 year mark in a narrow five year window of 2023-2028. If the reactor plant life extension measures can be taken, the plans could get 20 year license renewals that would take them into the mid-2040s.

Similarly, the other half, more or less, of the French nuclear fleet hits the 40 year mark in the 10 year period starting  in 2029. If the reactor plant life extension measures can be taken, the plans could get 20 year license renewals that would take them into the 2050s.

President Macron said France will shut down just 14 commercial nuclear reactors by 2035 out of 58, all operated by state-controlled utility EDF. He said France will only close two reactors by 2020 – Fessenheim-1 and Fessenheim-2.

New Plants for Old

The president said nuclear would remain a key element in national power supply. He kicked the decision on building new nuclear reactors in the future after 2021. A likely scenario is that new reactors would be based on Areva’s 1650 MW EPR design or possibly an 1100 MW design developed jointly by Areva and Mistubishi which is a scaled down version of the EPR.

France has made only tentative plans to invest in development of small modular reactors (SMRs). According to a global review of SMRs by the World Nuclear Association in November 2018, France has developed the NP-300 PWR design from submarine power plants and aimed it at export markets for power, heat and desalination. It has passive safety systems and could be built for applications of 100 to 300 MWe or more with up to 500,000 m3/day desalination. The profile does not mention its use for domestic markets or applications.

Future of EDF In Play

A press release from the Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition said: “The government will maintain a dialogue with EDF in order to plan this decrease [in nuclear capacity] and designate sites on which the closures will be made.”

It says closures should take place primarily at the sites housing the country’s oldest reactors: Blayais, Bugey, Chinon, Cruas, Dampierre, Gravelines, Saint-Laurent and Tricastin. However, it will be up to EDF to specify which reactors will be closed. All of these older units are in the range of 900 MW.

“The final confirmation of the reactors to be shut down will take place at least three years before the date of effective closure of the chosen reactors,” the ministry said.

In a nod to the reality that France is going to need new reactors, the government said further that it wants to maintain the option for possible future new reactors.

Macron said he has requested state-owned EDF to “work on the development of a new nuclear program.”

The government will lead a work program with EDF on industrial capacity issues of the nuclear industry, “economic optimization” of the EPR reactor design, storage of waste from a new reactor fleet, financing models, as well as regulatory and legal procedures. A decision to proceed with nuclear new build will also take place in 2021.

French Government to Boost Investment Share in EDF

Reuters reported that Macron did not mention a possible EDF restructuring but a separate statement from the government said the state could raise its 83.7 percent stake.

“The state will consider boosting its stake in the capital of the company in line with the challenges and risks linked to the nuclear activity,” the note said.

Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy told a news conference that EDF’s structure was not necessarily the most efficient in the long run.

“We want EDF to remain an integrated group. There could be a parent company and subsidiaries,” he said.

Reuters reported that Financial markets have long speculated that EDF’s nuclear activities could be put into a separate legal structure and nationalized, which would allow the state to subsidize the business

France Must Remain Committed To EPR Technology Says Macron

(NucNet): The EPR nuclear power unit must be part of a package of technological options for tomorrow and France must maintain an industrial capacity to build new reactors, French president Emmanuel Macron said in his speech on the country’s energy program.

Mr Macron said France needed its EPR technology “for sovereignty issues” and said the government and state-controlled utility EDF will work together on “the issues of industrial capacity” of the [nuclear] sector and “the economic optimization of a new reactor model”.

According to French nuclear society SFEN, EDF has said its aim is to reduce the costs of building new EPR units to €60 to €70 per MWh.

The cost of the Flamanville-3 plant under construction in northern France has been put at between $93 and $106 per MWh, about the same as gas or coal-powered plants but cheaper than onshore wind farms.

SFEN told NucNet earlier this year that if France – which has the world’s highest share of nuclear in its electricity mix – built 14 new EPR units it could cut costs and reduce construction times by up to 30%, benefitting from savings that can be made from building a series of identical or similar plants.

Nuclear Policy Will Have No Short-Term Consequences Says Orano

(NucNet): Decisions announced by president Emanuel Macron regarding the shutdown of nuclear power reactors will have no short-term consequences for Orano’s plants in France, although they may have an impact “towards the middle of the next decade”, the company said in a statement.

Orano, formerly Areva, said France has confirmed its commitment to treatment and recycling for the management of spent nuclear fuel.  The company said it will implement measures to limit the impact of any shutdowns and would pursue investments in its facilities.

The company has two main facilities at La Hague in northern France and the Melox plant in southern France. La Hague carries out the first stage of recycling used fuel from nuclear reactors. The Melox site manufactures mixed oxide fuel assemblies designed to supply light-water reactors.

Orano said nuclear energy is the third largest industrial sector in France and employs more than 220,000 people.

Other Nuclear News

Holtec Signs Agreement To Build
$680M Nuclear Component Plant In India

US-based Holtec International has signed an agreement with the Indian state of Maharashtra to build a manufacturing facility that would expand India’s domestic industrial capacity to produce nuclear systems and components.

According to the statement, the planned manufacturing plant will fabricate complex and safety-related nuclear equipment which could support India’s planned expansion of nuclear generation.

A Holtec official was quoted as saying that the proposed deal will allow for closer cooperation between the US and India in the deployment of Holtec’s SMR-160 small modular reactor design “around the world”.

India’s cabinet in May last year approved the future construction of ten 700 MWe indigenous designed pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) as a fully ‘homegrown’ initiative with likely manufacturing orders to Indian industry of about (USD11 billion).

DOE Award to Holtec SMR Effort

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced 11/13/18 funding selections for eleven domestic advanced nuclear technology projects. These projects, located across six states, will receive awards totaling $18 million in funding, with project values totaling approximately $25 million.

The projects are cost-shared and will allow industry-led teams, including participants from federal agencies, public and private laboratories, institutions of higher education, and other domestic entities, to advance the state of U.S. commercial nuclear capability.

Holtec SMR

Conceptual Image of Holtect 160 MW SMR. Image: Holtec.

The awards are through the Office of Nuclear Energy’s (NE) funding opportunity announcement (FOA) U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development. DOE said in a press statement that Holtec’s total funding for the project will be $3.25M.

Integral and Separate Effects Test Program for the Investigation and Validation of Passive Safety System Performance of SMRs – Phase 1 Only – SMR, LLC (Camden, NJ) will develop a uniquely configurable set of testing platforms to demonstrate small modular reactor (SMR) passive safety system performance, accelerate the SMR-160 and other SMR designs to market, and help license these designs with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and international regulators. DOE Funding: $1,624,729; Non-DOE: $1,624,729; Total Value: $3,249,458

Terrestrial Energy Wins DOE Funds
for Licensing Support for Molten Salt Design

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced on November 13th, that it had selected Terrestrial Energy USA (TEUSA) for a financial award to support the company’s pre-application activities with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

These activities will advance the licensing of the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) power plant design in the United States and accelerate its deployment. DOE Funding: $499,232; Non-DOE: $124,808; Total Value: $624,040

The award was made as part of a program established and managed by the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, to accelerate development of advanced nuclear technology. An element of this DOE funding program was established specifically to fund, through private-public partnerships, activities to support regulatory engagement leading to licensing approvals of projects involving advanced reactor designs.


Molten Salt Conceptual Diagram. Image: Idaho National Laboratory

Simon Irish, Chief Executive Officer of Terrestrial Energy USA said. “The award sits on our critical path to market and advances our IMSR® regulatory program in a clear and defined way. On completion, it will also be an important demonstration of the viability and applicability of the regulatory framework for advanced reactor licensing.”

Terrestrial Energy USA is developing the IMSR® power plant design for electric grid power and industrial process heat generation, and plans for first U.S. deployment in the late 2020s. The IMSR® is a Generation IV advanced reactor that uses liquid fuel molten-salt technology in an innovative reactor design, one that incorporates all primary reactor components within a sealed and replaceable reactor vessel, the IMSR® “Core-unit,” that has a seven-year operating lifetime.

US Companies Collaborate on TRISO Fuel Facility

Triso fuel

TRISO Fuel Cutaway Digram: Image: INL

Centrus Energy Corp and X-energy are to proceed with the preliminary design of a facility to fabricate advanced nuclear fuels based on X-energy’s uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel forms.

A new services contract calls for the firms to complete a conceptual design of a fabrication facility to provide TRISO fuel for X-energy’s Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled modular reactor and other advanced reactors.

Under the agreement, Centrus will provide X-energy with technical expertise and resources to support preliminary facility design, including detailed nuclear criticality safety analysis, infrastructure design, and balance of plant support systems, as well as initial work on a licence application for the facility. Centrus is also providing facility space to X-energy at Centrus’ Technology and Manufacturing Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where X-energy and Centrus employees are working together on the project.

“We see great promise in this market and believe the advanced TRISO fuel to be produced in this facility will offer an attractive and competitive solution to power advanced reactors around the world,” Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman said.

Pete Pappano, X-energy’s principal investigator and vice president of fuels production, said the collaboration had already succeeded in producing a conceptual layout of the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility.

“With this new agreement, X-energy and Centrus will complete the preliminary and final designs of the TRISO-X Facility, positioning the companies to be first to market in the sector of high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) TRISO-based fuel for advanced reactors and, potentially, accident tolerant fuel for the existing light water reactor fleet,” he said.

The Xe-100 is a 200 MWt (75 MWe) reactor, which X-energy envisages being built as a standard “four-pack” plant generating about 300 MWe. The plant will use ‘pebbles’ of fuel containing TRISO fuel particles. Each TRISO particle has a kernel of enriched uranium oxycarbide, encased in carbon and ceramic layers which prevent the release of radioactivity. The layers provide each particle with its own independent containment system, while the graphite surrounding the particles moderates the nuclear reaction. Such fuel cannot melt down.

X-energy has already successfully fabricated its first fuel pebbles using natural uranium at a pilot scale fuel facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The company earlier this year received an award of USD4.5 million from the US Department of Energy for a total cost-shared value of USD8.9 million to design a commercial scale fuel fabrication facility and submit a licence application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission by mid-2021.

X-energy President Harlan Bowers said in March that the fabrication facility is scheduled to be producing fuel by 2025, to support first-of-a-kind reactor deployment by the mid- to late-2020s.

CGN Appoints Former Horizon COO
to Lead Bradwell B Project

(NucNet): China’s CGN has announced that Alan Raymant, former chief operating officer of UK-based Horizon Nuclear Power, has joined CGN UK as chief executive officer of the Bradwell B nuclear power station project.

Zheng Dongshan, chief executive of CGN UK, said the Bradwell B project is of great importance to CGN, since “it will involve us in delivering our advanced HPR1000 technology under the robust and world-leading regulatory regime that exists in the UK”.

CGN said development of the UK HPR1000 at Bradwell B will follow on from development of new nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C.

CGN owns 33.5% of the Hinkley Point C project, in which it is both an investor and an industrial partner.  It is a 20% shareholder in Sizewell C and a majority shareholder in Bradwell Power Generation Company Ltd, a joint venture with EDF which will take forward the Bradwell B project.

The reference plant for Bradwell B is the HPR1000 reactor under construction at Fangchenggang, in Guangxi Province, China.

Bellefonte Purchase / Construction Plan Goes Bust
Over Lack of Compliance with NRC Requirements

bellefonte scottsboro al

Bellefonte Cooling Towers

A private development group that’s been working to purchase and finish construction of the Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama as  part of a $111M purchase plan was unable to close it with TVA by a Friday deadline. The deal is apparently dead, at least for now. (See prior coverage on this blog in Nov’16 which raised serious questions about the prospects for the success of the project.)

Nuclear Development LLC (ND), said Friday that it is suing the seller, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) over the utility’s decision to end negotiations with ND due to its failure to comply with NRC requirements.

The firm has tried to buy the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant from TVA and get Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) to leave the service area of that utility. MLGW is one of TVA’s largest customers.

Officials with TVA told local news media it had notified ND of “outstanding legal issues” that prevented the transaction’s closure.

“I want to be very clear. TVA did not tell them we aren’t going to go through with it. TVA reminded Nuclear Development of the legal requirements that would still have to be resolved if they were to close today,” said TVA spokesman Jim Hopson.

The legal requirements are related to the firm’s acquisition of  licensing to own a nuclear facility as required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The NRC received the application for the 10CFR50 construction license on November 13th.  The plants had been placed on “deferred” status in 2010. See in NRC ADAMS ML18318A428 for full text and all supporting documents – NRC Docket Nos. 50-438 and 50-439.

Haney’s firm asked the NRC for construction licenses for both partially completed reactors even though most experts who looked at the project assumed that only one of the reactors would be economically feasible to complete. TVA cannibalized both plants for equipment over the years.

A TVA spokesman told the Memphis Business Journal that one of the reasons of the closing date for this agreement was two years after the purchase was to allow Nuclear Development to go through all of the necessary actions required to obtain [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] permission.

As of Friday 12/1/18 the NRC was still reviewing an application that Nuclear Development filed this month. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the full review of transferring the construction permit from TVA to ND is not yet underway and would take between six to 12 months.

The Bellefonte plant needs a construction license to restart completion of the plant. It would also need an operating license. The plant comes under the coverage of older, and separate, regulatory licensing processes.

“TVA declined to provide a contract extension beyond the nearly 25 months already provided due to Nuclear Development’s lack of diligence in completing these required activities,” Hopson said.

Franklin L. Haney, the NC CEO, is a major political donor who gave $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. He bragged about his close ties to the Trump administration hoping to influence decisions by DOE for loan guarantees and by the IRS for production tax credits. Neither agency granted his requests.

UAE Regulator not Ready to License Barakah 1 Nuclear Plant

Reuters reports that the United Arab Emirates’ Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation is not ready to give the company that will run the country’s first nuclear plant a license to operate, a senior official said on Wednesday.

The $24.4 billion Barakah power plant is the world’s largest nuclear project under construction and will be the first in the Arab world. The plant, with four reactors, has total capacity of 5,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

The operator, Nawah, has meet all regulatory requirements, Christer Viktorsson, director-general of the nuclear body, told a news conference.

“We are continuing to review the application of the operator to start Barakah,” he said. “We are not ready to give the operating license yet.”

The regulator is waiting for Nawah to declare itself technically and organizationally ready, he said. In nuclear terms, the plant must complete an ‘operational readiness review’ or ORR.  Gaps or deficiencies in the ORR will delay the licensing process. Training issues for staff have been cited as one of the findings in a review.

The plant was originally scheduled to start operating in 2017. It has since been delayed to late 2019-early 2020.

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2 Responses to Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?

  1. Pingback: Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain? - Neutron Bytes - Pro-Nuclear Power Blogs - Nuclear Street - Nuclear Power Plant News, Jobs, and Careers

  2. Marcel Williams says:

    What France needs to do is to use nuclear electricity from off-peak hours for the pyrolysis of urban and rural bio-waste. The syngas produced could be converted into methanol and used in natural gas power plants converted to use methanol (relatively cheap and easy to do). Such facilities could provide France with peak-load electric power allowing France’s power grid to become completely carbon neutral.
    The bio-methanol could also be converted into renewable gasoline and used in regular automobiles.


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