France to Slash Reliance on Nuclear in New Draft Policy

France will cap its nuclear power capacity at the current 63.2 GW, forcing closures if new reactors come online, and instead boost renewable generation if a bill unveiled by its energy ministry in mid-June becomes law.

The draft policy setting out new long-term targets seeks to diversify the country’s energy sources. It lays out a 40% carbon dioxide reduction target by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. It also calls for an increase in renewables’ share of final energy consumption to 32% in 2030 (and 40% of electricity consumption)—even though the country is behind on a current target of 23% by 2020. One mechanism outlined to achieve the renewables boost requires an overhaul of the contribution au service public de l’électricité, a tax on household power bills to fund wind and solar output. The policy also requires slashing total energy consumption in half by 2050, and it banks on a massive expansion of the use of electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, though it caps nuclear capacity, the draft energy policy does not set reactor closure dates or nuclear plant lifespan limits. Those could be decided in five-year energy plans to be passed by decree in the future.

“We won’t exit nuclear, that’s not the choice we’re making,” Energy and Environment Minister Ségolène Royal told reporters. “Thanks to nuclear energy, we can implement this energy transition with no issues.”

France’s President Francois Hollande pledged during the 2012 election to slash nuclear’s share of generation from the current 75%—the highest in the world—to just 50% by 2025 and to shutter France’s oldest nuclear power plant, Fessenheim, by the end of 2016. Though those goals have been met with rigid opposition from unions and political adversaries, the draft policy, which follows a period of national energy debate, would meet Hollande’s pledges. Among other consequences, power firm EDF would be required to shutter older reactors when its European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) unit at Flamanville comes online as expected in 2016 (Figure 1).

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1. France’s next nuclear generation. EDF’s EPR plant under construction at Flamanville is expected to come online in 2016. The project is already behind schedule by four years, with costs tripling to $11.6 billion. EDF in June confirmed new concrete defects on the internal reactor building that would take three months to repair but would not affect the reactor’s start date. Courtesy: EDF

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)