Nuclear Politics

France / National Assembly Vote Hailed As Start Of Project To ‘Relaunch Nuclear Industry’

By David Dalton
22 March 2023

First pair in new fleet of EPR2 reactors likely to be built at existing Penly power station site
National Assembly Vote Hailed As Start Of Project To ‘Relaunch Nuclear Industry’
The nuclear plan was approved on its first reading with 402 votes in favour and 130 against.
France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, voted in favour of the government’s nuclear power plan with a large majority on Tuesday (21 March), heralding what the energy minister said was the start of “the immense project” of relaunching the country’s nuclear industry.

The nuclear plan, whose key plank is the planned construction of six new nuclear reactors, was approved on its first reading with 402 votes in favour and 130 against.

The plan says the first pair of EPR2 reactors in the new fleet would be built at the existing Penly nuclear power station, 10 km from Dieppe in northern France.

The plan aims to accelerate the construction of new nuclear power plants by cutting bureaucracy. The government has said it wants to streamline the administrative processes needed to approve and build new plants.

The plan aims to “reduce by several years” the construction time of new EPR2 reactors “in the immediate vicinity of existing power plants”.

Nuclear Share To Stay At About 70%

Crucially, France is also removing from the text a 2015 law introduced under the presidency of Francois Hollande to reduce the share of nuclear power from around 70% today to 50% by 2035. This was confirmed in a separate National Assembly vote earlier this month.

“After the Senate last month, the lower house this evening by a large majority voted in favour of the nuclear plan ...the result of a work of co-construction, to tackle climate change and guarantee our energy sovereignty,” prime minister Elisabeth Borne tweeted.

“Our objective is to make France a major carbon-free and sovereign nation,” energy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher tweeted, adding that this was the first building block for the “immense project of relaunching our nuclear industry”.

She called the legislation “fundamental” to France’s energy strategy and climate ambition and said that in the race to build new nuclear, administrative procedures should not slow down the life extension of existing reactors or the construction of new ones.

Pannier-Runacher said the he approval of this text “sends a clear signal to a sector which has suffered from contradictory injunctions in the past”.

The text was presented by Pannier-Runacher to the Council of Ministers on 2 November 2022 and was adopted by the Senate at first reading, with some modifications, by 239 votes for and 16 against on 24 January 2023.

Macron’s Ambitious Nuclear Plans

Pannier-Runacher was earlier reported as saying she wants “neither a ceiling nor floor” on the amount of nuclear in the mix. She said nuclear’s share is about 70% – the highest in the world – but was 63% in 2022 due to the shutdowns of several reactors because of problems with piping corrosion.

President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to modernise and expand the country’s nuclear industry in a policy U-turn, reversing his predecessor’s commitment to cap the share of nuclear power at 50%.

Macron has proposed the construction of six new French-designed EPR2 reactors, designed to enter service starting in 2035, with an option for a further eight reactors to follow.

The UK and France recently signed an agreement to increase nuclear cooperation, including on new nuclear construction projects and reducing reliance on civil nuclear goods from Russia.

The agreement also established a working group on nuclear innovation and safety as both countries seek to deploy large-scale and small modular reactors to achieve greater energy security by moving away from fossil fuels.

The first pair of EPR2 nuclear power plants is to be built at the existing Penly site.

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