13 May (NucNet): France will need to build at least 35 new nuclear reactors over the next 35 years if it is to meet its target of generating 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear, a conference has heard.
Bernard Bigot, chairman of France’s Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (atomic and alternative energy commission; CEA), told the European Nuclear Conference in Marseille, France, that nuclear remains one of “two pillars” of France’s energy mix for the future along with renewables.
But he warned the government not to “go too fast” on reducing nuclear because of the number of units that could reach the end of their operating lifetimes. France has 58 reactors in commercial operation, but many came online in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with most operational lifetimes likely to be 40 years.
The Paris-based OECD Nuclear Energy agency said in a 2012 report that a number of nuclear stations, most notably in the US, have been granted lifetime extensions of up to 60 years, a development that is being “keenly watched” in other OECD countries. In France there is no legal end to the operating licence, but continued operation is based on positive outcomes from periodic safety reviews, the NEA said.
The NEA also said that without life extensions, global nuclear capacity would fall dramatically in the next decade, especially if the construction of new nuclear power plants also slows as a result of the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.
Mr Bigot said it will be “very difficult” to reduce France’s nuclear share to 50 percent from the current 75 percent without building new reactors to replace aging units. He warned that by 2050 or 2060 France could find itself with no nuclear power stations.
President Francois Hollande wants to reduce France’s share of nuclear power in electricity generation to 50 percent by 2025, starting with the shutdown of the two oldest reactors at Fessenheim by the end of 2016.
A national debate on energy policy was launched in January 2013 under the auspices of the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.
A French parliamentary commission has already called on the government to delay its planned phase-out of nuclear energy and stagger it over several decades, saying a sudden withdrawal of nuclear could hit the economy and drive up electricity prices.