France could close ‘up to 17’ nuclear reactors by 2025 via France 24

Nicolas Hulot, France’s environment minister, announced on Monday that France could close “up to 17 nuclear reactors” by 2025.

Hulot says the move aims to bring policy into line with a law on renewable energy that aims to reduce French reliance on nuclear power to 50 percent. France currently derives close to 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. The push for diversification comes on the heels of other high-profile stances taken by Hulot and the administration of President Emmanuel Macron, including a ban on new fossil fuel exploration an end to the sale of gas and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040, and a recently announced climate conference to be held on December 12 for the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Paris Accord.

“It’s understandable that in order to reach that target, we will have to close a number of reactors … it could be up to 17 reactors, we’ll have to see,” Hulot told French radio station RTL. “Every reactor comes with its own unique economic, social and even security context.”

Energy independence

Such a reduction in nuclear power generation would signal a large break with France’s traditional energy policy. France’s heavy investment in nuclear power dates back to the 1973 oil crisis, which fueled the French government’s desire for energy independence. With few natural resources – oil, gas or coal – on its territory, France’s policy-makers saw nuclear as the answer.

They proceeded with a highly centralised and aggressive national plan to build a fleet of nuclear plants, based on a single design – the American Pressurized Water Reactor. Within seven years, the country had completed construction on 76 percent of its current 58 reactors at an inflation-adjusted cost of $330 billion (€290 billion).


An ageing fleet  

France’s nuclear plants – built for a planned lifespan of 40 years – are ageing. The average plant is more than 30 years old, and 15 of France’s 58 reactors are over 35. The oldest of these is Fessenheim, built in 1977. Located near the Franco-German border in Alsace, the plant has been a point of contention between France and Germany, which halted its own nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. In 2014 the discovery of water leaks forced the shutdown of one of the plant’s reactors, an incident that prompted German media to accuse the French government of downplaying the risks.

Ségolène Royal, environment minister under former president François Hollande, announced in April that France would shutter Fessenheim as soon as a new one, under construction in Normandy, entered service. But Hollande’s government also declared its intention to extend the life of France’s reactors by 10 years. Whichever road France takes – whether maintaining and replacing its nuclear plants, or phasing them out in favour of alternative energies – the bill is going to be steep.

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While I’m in no way a nuclear energy proponent, setting an arbitrary goal like the one discussed above doesn’t seem to be about much more than politics. An approach that would make more sense to me would be simply conducting a thorough investigation of the current state of the country’s nuclear power plants, and then working to quickly decommission those that are now longer safe to operate — as determined by experts who don’t have a financial or political stake in the matter (which may in reality be very hard to find in France).

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