French nuclear power future unclear, cap raises Flamanville doubts

19 August 2014 06:00 Source:ICIS

Energy analysts remain sceptical over the official target of reducing nuclear power generation in France to 50% of the electricity mix by 2025 in the absence of concrete proposals, ICIS understands.

At the same time a looming cap on installed nuclear power generation capacity casts doubt on the prospect of the only new nuclear reactor currently under construction in the country, the 1.6GW Flamanville 3 plant, becoming operational as scheduled in 2016.

A draft of the bill for energy transition and green growth was resubmitted to cabinet ministers on 30 July and is expected to be debated in parliament on 1 October ( see EDEM 30 July 2014 ), but the future of the country’s nuclear fleet is still unclear.

“A lot of things are still missing,” one analyst told ICIS. “There are no concrete plans on how exactly the share of nuclear generation will be reduced, no decision on what plants to close, when they will be closing and no ceiling given to the lifespan of nuclear reactors.”

The draft bill also makes no specific mention of the 1.8GW Fessenheim plant, despite the fact president Francois Hollande has reiterated his campaign promise to close it by the end of 2016, and that meeting this deadline would require speeding up normal decommissioning procedures by several years.

The draft bill sets a ceiling at 63.2GW for the country’s total installed nuclear capacity. This is equal to today’s installed capacity, which raises the question of whether Flamanville 3 will connect to the grid in two years time.

Producing the documents outlining the decommissioning of Fessenheim is expected to take about two years and that process is only expected to start in 2016.

‘Reality is not the same’

A second analyst maintained a sceptical outlook. “The draft bill consists mainly of announcements at the moment, but reality is not the same,” he concluded. He could not see any significant changes in the new draft proposal as presented in July and expected to see the first details begin to emerge with the start of parliamentary debate in October.

Most of the French nuclear fleet was built with an age limit of 40 years and has already pushed past 30 years of operation, meaning a majority of plants could be decommissioned in the next decade.

The cap of 63.2GW still requires the nuclear fleet to maintain its current installed capacity, indicating that the lifespan of reactors will have to be extended, perhaps by as much as 10-20 years as proposed by EDF, or that new reactors will have to be built.

EDF chief executive Henri Proglio indicated in a statement on 31 July confidence that nuclear generation would maintain a key role throughout the transition and welcomed what he called a balanced proposal, in which the complementary nature of different sources of power generation was recognised.

EDF wants to extend the lifespan of existing reactors but is waiting for the French Nuclear Safety Authority to approve this course of action.

In theory, this could also apply to Fessenheim, which would require replacement of the steam turbine but could give the reactors a new lease of life lasting 10 years.

The only current proposal for a new reactor, at Penly, has been on hold since 2011, due to costs of construction and demand estimates. Joachim Moxon

By Joachim Moxon