France to begin work on new nuclear fleet before 2027

An aerial view of the Penly nuclear power plant (Remi Mathis/CC BY-SA 3.0)
France is planning to begin work on the first of six EPR2 reactors before May 2027, an energy ministry official said on Tuesday.

The date is the same month that President Emmanuel Macron’s second term ends, and is tied to his plans to base France’s 2050 zero-carbon plans on the latest generation of French-designed reactors.

A ministry official told reporters: “The goal is for the procedural part and authorisations to last less than five years and for construction of the first EPR2 to start before the end of the presidential term.”

The six reactors, which are to be built by EDF and are expected to cost around €52bn, will be built on three existing sites: two at Penly in the Seine-Maritime department, two at Gravelines in northern France, and two in Bugey, eastern France, or Tricastin, in the south of country.

The first completion target is between 2035 and 2036 for the Penly reactors.

To support this drive, the government plans to introduce legislation to loosen the approval process for new units. Reactors will be designated “projects of major public interest”, which will mean some provisions of France’s environmental code and coastal protection regulations would not apply.

The bill, which the government wants drafted by the end of October and implemented in the first half of 2023, has met with opposition from environmental groups.

Pauline Boyer of Greenpeace France tweeted yesterday: “The government proposes a law to accelerate the installation of new nuclear reactors before any consultation of the population! It’s a democratic hijacking, a constant for E Macron and the nuclear lobbies.”

Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency notes that France’s nuclear industry is in difficulty, with “a wave of repairs at power stations forcing a record number of reactors offline and sending nuclear power production to a 30-year low”.

The EPR2 is a third-generation design produced by nuclear engineer Framatome and EDF. It is an “optimised” version of the 1.7GW EPR design, which has proved difficult to build. The first two project at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiluoto in Finland both suffered lengthy delays and cost overruns. However, two other EPR reactors were completed at the Taishan plant in Guangdong, China, and entered service in 2018 and 2019

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