France, which currently gets more than 75% of its electricity generation from nuclear, may close as many as 17 reactors by 2025, according to Minister of Environment Nicolas Hulot.
In an interview with RTL radio on July 10, Hulot stated that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who took office in mid-May, intends to see through the previous government’s nuclear energy goal. The reduction of nuclear capacity to 50% of the nation’s energy mix by 2025 is one of six major objectives laid out in the August 17, 2015 Energy Transition Act for Green Growth.
“To meet the target it’s clear enough that you need to close a certain number of reactors,” Hulot said on the radio program. “It could be as many as 17 reactors – we’ll have to take a closer look.”
According to the World Nuclear Association, France currently has “58 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF), with a total capacity of 63.2 GWe, supplying 436 TWh of electricity in 2014, 77.5% of the total generated there.”
This extremely high reliance on nuclear power in France is a lasting side effect of the 1974 oil shock, the World Nuclear Association explains. At that time, in an effort to ensure energy independence, the nation decided to expand its nuclear capacity. Unfortunately, the nation now finds itself with a less-than-diverse energy mix. Now, in an effort to diversify the energy mix and boost the share of renewables on the grid, France is working to shift away from nuclear.
The Act also set a ceiling on nuclear electricity generation capacity. “Maximum nuclear electricity generation capacity is set at 63.2 GW. Operating licences will no longer be granted for nuclear power plants that would raise total authorised capacity above 63.2 GW, the total output of the fleet currently in service,” according to a July 2016 government document.
Diversification isn’t the only reason to make the shift, however. According to the World Nuclear Association, all of Frances’s existing nuclear reactors are one of three types of pressurized water reactors (PWR): “three-loop 900 MWe (34), four-loop 1300 MWe P4 type (20) and finally four-loop 1450 MWe N4 type (4).”
The average age of EdF’s fleet was 30 years in 2015, closing in on the average design lifespan of 30-40 years. All of the 900 MWe reactors, most of which started up in the late 1970s or early 1980s, had their lifetimes extended by 10 years in 2002. “A review of the 1300 MWe class followed and in October 2006 the regulatory authority cleared all 20 units for an extra ten years’ operation conditional upon minor modifications at their 20-year outages over 2005-14,” according to the World Nuclear Association.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.