Rumors: French Nuclear Plants May Get Deferred Retirement

In France, where nuclear power accounts for 75% of the electrical grid, power plants such as this one in Avoine have become part of the landscape. Photo: flickr/Daniel Jolivet

In France, where nuclear power accounts for 75% of the electrical grid, power plants such as this one in Avoine have become part of the landscape.
Photo: flickr/Daniel Jolivet

France’s current generation of nuclear power plants may keep running for a while longer, with conflicting reports suggesting that the French government has authorized an extension of plants’ active lifespans from 40 to 50 years.

Government officials, however, have denied that any such decision has been reached, and safety regulators have said that they were not consulted on the matter.

Le Journal de Dimanche broke the story on October 13, when it reported that “according to various sources close to the government,” French authorities were planning to grant a ten-year reprieve to France’s 20 nuclear power plants and 58 reactors, the first of which are scheduled to close in 2018. “The decision will be made before the year’s end,” one source close to the Minister of Ecology was quoted saying.

“The decision has been made,” another source told Le JDD. “The government is just looking for the right political moment.” Spokespeople for Ecology Minister Philippe Martin refused to comment.

Sources say that extending the life of French nuclear power plants will mean only a 20% rise in power prices by 2017, rather than the 30% increase expected if the government proceeds with closure as planned. France generates 75% of its domestic power from nuclear energy, and with renewable capacity still small and shale gas extraction currently banned, the French energy market is likely to remain closely tied to nuclear output for a long time.

Électricité de France (EDF), the French utility company responsible for the running of the country’s nuclear energy program, has denied that any decision has been reached. Le JDD, however, reported that EDF had been lobbying hard for an extension, which would allow it to save money by amortizing the cost of nuclear power over fifty years instead of forty.

However, in an interview with Le Monde, Nuclear Security Authority (ANF) President Pierre-Franck Chevet denied that his agency had authorized an extension for plants. He said that the ANF would make its decision no sooner than 2015, and that its ruling would be based on the EDF’s demonstrated ability to operate its nuclear power plants safely.

He told Le Monde that currently, “an extension of power plants past forty years has not been earned, in terms of safety.” He said that EDF would need to bring its grid of reactors “as close as possible to modern standards” of safety.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici has denied the rumors of a nuclear deadline extension. “No decision of that nature has been made,” he declared on France Inter.

The French government collects approximately €2 billion per year in revenues from nuclear power, and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has promised that the government will use this cash flow to finance a transition to renewable energy. President François Hollande has promised that nuclear power will contribute to only 50% of France’s electricity by 2025.

Nuclear power, despite its low greenhouse gas emissions, is an absolute bête noire for many environmentalists. National Assembly Vice-President Denis Baupin, speaking for the left-wing party Europe Écologie—Les Verts, has warned that his party will oppose an extension for existing nuclear plants.

Trackbacks

  1. […] France’s current generation of nuclear power plants may keep running for a while longer, with conflicting reports suggesting that the French government has authorized an extension of plants’ active lifespan from 40 to 50 years. Government officials, however, have denied that any such decision has been reached, and safety regulators have said that they were not consulted on the matter. Nuclear power, despite its low greenhouse gas emissions, is an absolute bête noire for many environmentalists… […]

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