France considers six new nuclear reactors

The French government has sent a letter requesting domestic utility EDF to assess the possibility of building six new EPR nuclear plants over the next 15 years. This occurs despite the country's plan to reduce the proportion of nuclear power in its energy mix.
Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix
Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

While France's coastline is set to soon be adorned with new offshore wind farms, French President Emmanuel Macron is quietly sitting in the innermost chambers of Hôtel de Matignon mulling an expansion of the republic's nuclear power capacity, shows a letter sent to domestic utility EDF and intercepted by French media Le Mondes.

The former requests that EDF explore the possibility of building six new Evolutionary Power Reactor-class atomic reactors (EPR) over the course of the next 15 years.

EDF has declined to comment the correspondence, but a high-ranking civil servant in the The Ministry of the Economy and Finance, informally Bercy, has underlined that this does not constitute an order as such, but rather merely expresses a direction.

Contradictory statements

This decision might seem peculiar in and of the fact that France has been working since 2012 to reduce the proportion of nuclear power in its energy mix.

Former French President François Hollande vowed amid the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear fallout that the country would decrease its dependence on fission and slash the percentage down to 50 by 2025.

The promise has since been postponed to 2035, but even so, the republic's 2017 plan entailed the decommissioning of up to 17 nuclear reactors in its efforts to diminish its atomic reliance.

Nonetheless, Champs-Élysées is apparently still considering new nukes – this time of of the EPR class, a third-generation pressurized water reactor design.

The trauma of Flamanville

The EPR design is the first generation of reactors that complies with a series of new safety requirements following the Fukushima meltdown, and the plan to expand their use is already creating some anxiety.

The letter to EDF indicates what the government sees as the next step after finishing the EPR plant in Flamanville in 2023. Flamanville was actually complete in 1986, but work on another, third reactor commenced in 2007 and was meant to be finalized in 2012 but has since faced countless delays, complications and, not least, budget overruns.

EDF's original assessment was that the third Flamanville reactor would cost EUR 3.3 billion. The most recent estimate from the utility sets the price tag at EUR 10.9 billion – and the government is considering building six of these.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), nuclear accounts for 40 percent of France's total energy consumption and 72 percent of domestic electricity output.

English Edit: Daniel Frank Christensen

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