This week Le Monde said that the government questioned EDF, the country’s main state-controlled energy company, to come up with plans to build three new nuclear plants, each with a pair of its EPR reactors. The third-generation design generates enough electricity to supply 1.5 million people, and automatically shuts down and cools in dangerous situations. It doesn’t look like any developments are final at this stage. But energy experts were shocked by the news because it seemed to suggest that France is considering going nuclear in terms of energy.
The nation produces more than 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, the highest share of any nation in the world.
French nuclear regulators pushed for safety changes to existing sectors, and in 2015 the government voted to cut the share of nuclear in the nation’s energy supply to 50% by 2025 (a date later pushed out to 2035). Recently, the nuclear industry has struggled in safety concerns, rising competition from natural gas and renewables, and high-profile development boondoggles.
So what’s likely at work here?
France intends to shut down about 15 old reactors before 2030. So building six reactors wouldn’t necessarily increase energy production by nuclear plants across the nation, particularly as demand is growing in the coming years.
Meanwhile, some energy experts observed that France announced just this summer to become carbon neutral by 2050. That’s across the economy, meaning the country will need to reduce climate pollution not just from the electricity sector but in agriculture, transportation, and heavy industry as well. So officials likely want to avoid losing emissions-free electricity now. In addition, nuclear plants generate heat that can be utilized to drive crucial industrial processes.