Nuclear’s share of electricty will drop from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025 due to loss of know-how and requirements for more renewable sources
However, in fulfillment of a campaign promise, President François Hollande’s government is aiming to pass legislation in July that will cement a nuclear energy drawdown, bringing nuclear’s share of generation to 50 percent by 2025 in an effort to diversify France’s energy production as the country adopts new targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The move is a drastic shift for one of France’s iconic industries.
“Nuclear was sort of proof of the greatness of France,” said Bernard Laponche, a French energy consultant who helped develop France’s first generation of nuclear reactors. “It became a source of national pride, and there was never a strict separation between civilian and military affairs.”
On the other end of the supply chain, the French decided to recycle their nuclear waste, drastically cutting down on disposal requirements. A family of four over 20 years would generate a 35-millimeter film canister’s worth of nuclear waste.
The French government now holds 90 percent of shares in Areva, the firm that builds nuclear reactors, and 85 percent of Electricité de France (EDF), the utility that operates them.
For a time, the strategy paid off for France, helping make it the second largest economy in the European Union, behind Germany.
And while France has reduced nuclear waste, it hasn’t eliminated the need to dispose of it. No country with nuclear power has a viable underground repository for waste, and proposed sites in France face public opposition, despite more widespread support for nuclear power.
On the other hand, France is the second largest renewable energy producer and consumer in Europe. Wavering solar and wind power don’t play well with baseload nuclear plants that prefer to run at full blast, so the French must find a way to cope with this imbalance if they are to meet the European Union’s directive to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020.
The French energy agency ADEME recently issued a report finding that it is technically and economically feasible for France to switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, though distributed renewable energy is a direct threat to the nuclear utility’s business model.