Four nuclear cooling towers
Enlarge / Vapor rises from the cooling towers of the nuclear plant of Dampierre-en-Burly close to Orleans, central France, on October 23, 2018.

France is planning to construct as much as 14 nuclear reactors in an try and shore up the nation’s growing old nuclear fleet whereas additionally lowering the nation’s carbon emissions. And whereas the primary reactors gained’t open for years, the announcement may serve to undercut Russia’s makes an attempt to maintain Europe depending on pure gasoline.

President Emmanuel Macron introduced the choice final week, saying that state-backed Électricité de France, also called EDF, will construct six new crops beginning in 2028, with the choice to construct one other eight by 2050. EDF estimates that six next-generation pressurized water reactors will value round €50 billion ($57 billion). The primary may very well be commissioned as early as 2035.

The transfer is a pointy reversal of Macron’s earlier pledge to shut a number of reactors over the following decade or so. Nationwide politics virtually definitely play a job—the nuclear energy sector in France employs round 220,000 individuals, in response to one estimate. “What our nation wants is the rebirth of France’s nuclear trade,” Macron mentioned at a nuclear turbine manufacturing facility that EDF had simply bought from GE. “The time has come for a nuclear renaissance,” he mentioned.

Macron additionally mentioned that EDF will construct a prototype small modular reactor, or SMR, by 2030. SMRs are fission reactors which can be designed to be inbuilt a manufacturing facility and transported to their last vacation spot. They typically produce lower than 1 MW of energy and are supposed to be extra economical than conventional reactors, that are constructed on-site. EDF will face stiff competitors from quite a few corporations, from heavyweights like Westinghouse to startups like NuScale and Chinese language companies like China Huaneng Group, that are pushing to commercialize SMRs.

Nuclear powerhouse

France is residence to one of many world’s largest nuclear fleets—with 56 reactors, it’s second solely to the US. Final yr, nuclear energy generated two-thirds of the nation’s electrical energy, offering a hanging distinction to neighboring Germany, which is on monitor to close down its final nuclear energy plant by the tip of this yr.

France started constructing nuclear energy crops in earnest within the Nineteen Seventies in response to the oil disaster, beginning development on 9 reactors in 1975 alone. Not solely did authorities coverage assist remake the French power sector, however it additionally remodeled the French financial system by facilitating the event of the TGV, the all-electric, high-speed trains which have develop into a logo of French engineering.

The Nineteen Seventies constructing spree implies that a lot of France’s reactors are reaching the tip of their anticipated lives. The brand new reactors would assist keep the nation’s nuclear energy output, however since they gained’t come on-line for greater than a decade, there may very well be a major hole if too many crops are retired. Upkeep issues knocked as much as 30 % of the French fleet offline this winter as EDF battled cracks and corrosion in pipes in a few of its crops. That compelled France to spice up its reliance on coal, each from energy crops throughout the nation and from German electrical energy imports.

To forestall the retirements, Macron mentioned he would search to increase the lifespan of some nuclear reactors from the present 40 years to greater than 50 years if it may very well be completed safely. 

Geopolitical issues

France’s new plans have been introduced lower than two weeks after the EU introduced that nuclear energy could be thought-about “sustainable,” a call that was topic to intense lobbying by the French authorities. 

It additionally comes at a time of heightened tensions with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Russia has flooded the EU with low-cost pure gasoline, leaving the bloc depending on the nation for a lot of its power. In 2020, the EU acquired greater than 40 % of its pure gasoline from Russia. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which may double Russian exports to the area, seems prone to improve the bloc’s dependence. Macron’s announcement, whereas presumably coincidental, may sign that France is enthusiastic about taking up as Europe’s energy heart. 

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