As the traditionally strong French nuclear power industry continues to be plagued by technical and financial difficulties, the government has sought to cut nuclear power in favor of renewables.
French Environment Minister Segolene Royal sparked rebuke Tuesday (08.09.2015) by tying shutdown of the country’s oldest nuclear plant to the opening of an EPR reactor that has been delayed for six years already.
For half a century, the French nuclear power sector was the pride of the nation. Even now, it still covers three-quarters of the country’s energy needs.
French nuclear power group Areva was for many one of the biggest companies in the global nuclear sector, turning huge profits from mining uranium, producing fuel rods and constructing reactors.
But last year, Areva recorded a loss of 5 million euros. The group hasn’t sold a single power plant in the last seven years, and the Fukushima disaster looks to have had further impacts on demand for new reactors.
Third-generation nuclear reactors – so-called European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) – were initially considered a secure technology for the future and the flagship of the French nuclear industry. But even they have been fraught with problems.
Despite Royal’s recent statement, recently passed legislation on renewable energy in France may be the most telling sign that the winds of change appear to be blowing – toward a nuclear phase-out.
There is also the prospect of major safety issues. In mid-April it became known that there were weak points in the steel vessel that surrounds the reactor at the French Flamanville plant, which could lead to cracking under pressure.
The French Nuclear Safety Agency (ASN) called the situation “very serious,” and has demanded a comprehensive report by October.
EDF is considerably larger than Areva, and has an annual turnover of 70 billion euros. But Schneider points out its also has 24 billion euros of debt. Schneider sees this mountain of debt as a central problem.
According to the Paris audit office, the company faces an additional 50 billion euros in costs for dismantling and disposal of nuclear waste.
Read more at France tilting toward nuclear phase-out