UK and France Sign Landmark Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement

The UK and France on Friday signed a landmark agreement to strengthen cooperation on civil nuclear energy between the two countries, reaffirming their enthusiasm for nuclear power. The agreement, made nearly a year after the Fukushima accident in Japan, seeks to help the countries achieve energy security within the European Union’s low-carbon energy policy framework.

The “Franco-British declaration on energy” signed in Paris touts a need to “develop nuclear energy alongside renewable energy and other low carbon energy technologies” at both institutional and industrial levels to create economic activity and jobs in both countries.

The UK currently has 18 reactors that generate about 18% of its power. However, all but one will be retired by 2023, and the nation has been streamlining the approval process for new builds to ensure the first of some 19 GW of new generation plants will come online by about 2018.

France, meanwhile, has 58 nuclear reactors, all operated by majority state-owned utility Électricité de France (EDF). France derived over 78% of its electricity from nuclear energy in 2011.

The partnership reflects a “shared determination” to harness and manage nuclear energy in a safe and effective way. In particular, it emphasizes plans by EDF to develop four new AREVA EPR nuclear reactors in the UK. UK regulators recently issued an interim design acceptance of the third-generation reactor.

Regulators also cleared the AP1000, the reactor designed by Toshiba’s Westinghouse, but that third-generation design is making bigger strides in the U.S. market. After the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) late last year approved a final rule certifying the amended design of the reactor, it greenlighted a construction and operation license earlier this month for Southern Co.’s two proposed AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle, south of Augusta, which could become operational between 2016 and 2017.

Friday’s agreement between the UK and France also seeks to develop a more qualified nuclear power workforce. Plans include launching EDF Energy’s/Bridgewater College’s “World Class Training Centre” initiative.

Nuclear power research and development both for the current fleet and for the development of fourth-generation reactors are also expected to benefit from the accord. France’s nuclear safety agency Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA) and the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) will develop joint position statements and prepare common research programs to further, for example, development of Rolls-Royce’s fourth-generation reactor prototype ASTRID.

A range of industrial activities are also covered by the partnership. These include finalizing key contracts by EDF and AREVA for the UK’s first new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C in time for the project’s final investment decision before the end of 2012. AREVA and UK-based Rolls-Royce are also expected to strengthen their cooperation for the UK market, covering nuclear new builds and its fuel cycle, through which Rolls-Royce is expected to provide significant manufacturing and other engineering services for EPR projects.

Discussions will also be “stepped up on back-end fuel cycle issues relating to the safe and sustainable management of nuclear materials and radioactive waste, particularly our respective plans for disposing of radioactive waste. In this context, both countries welcome the continuing development of the UK’s strategy for managing its plutonium stocks,” the agreement states.

Finally, the two countries will look to share feedback on nuclear safety and establish common safety standards and safety resources. “Nuclear safety is, first and foremost, the responsibility of each operator and each state,” the agreement says. “It must also benefit from broadened international cooperation. France and the UK believe that one of the main lessons of the Fukushima accident is the need to prepare for emergencies at nuclear power plants, whatever the cause, including by having off-site emergency units. One operator’s resources must, as far as possible, be capable of supporting another operator in the event of a serious incident.”

Sources: POWERnews, number10.gov.uk

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