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  • Jan Bartak and Noël Camarcat

Nuclear Power in France and its Contribution to Reaching EU’s Climate Objectives

Abstract :

In this paper we provide a brief overview of the French nuclear program that was successfully implemented in the last three decades of the 20th century, making France the world leader in the share of nuclear power in its energy mix and a country with one of the lowest emissions of greenhouse gases from the electricity sector in Europe. We then recount the history of the evolutionary Generation III+ reactor – the EPR - and analyse the track record, challenges, difficulties, and lessons learnt from the early design stages through construction and up to commissioning of the different EPR projects in France, Finland, China and the UK. Finally, we will outline the recently announced nuclear new build program in France that will deploy the EPR2 reactor, an evolution of EPR integrating the experience feedback from the construction of EPR reactors worldwide, complemented by the construction the first SMR prototype by 2030, and we will describe the perspectives of cooperation with other European countries in developing their nuclear programs. This remobilisation of the French nuclear industry will be a direct and significant contribution of France to EU’s Green Deal objectives.

1. The success and glory of the French nuclear industry – a brief history

It is a common and well-known fact that France generates about 75% of its electricity from nuclear power and has now 56 nuclear power plants in operation (2 units of 900 MW each were permanently shut down in 2020 for political reasons). With another 15% generated by hydro power plants, France has one of the lowest GHG-emitting electricity systems in Europe and indeed in the world.

The launch of this unique feat in the history of energy transitions was triggered by the first oil shock in 1973. The sudden multiplication by four of oil prices revealed the level of France’s dependence on imported oil and on foreign powers. In March 1974, the Prime Minister Pierre Messmer announced the launch of an ambitious nuclear development program accompanied by a series of energy sobriety measures – a kind of green deal more than 45 years ahead of time. The Prime Minister stated: “It is true that France has not been very favoured by nature in terms of energy resources. We have almost no oil on our territory, we have much less coal than England and Germany, and less gas than Holland. Our great chance is our electrical energy of nuclear origin”.

The initial “Messmer” plan included the construction of thirteen 900 MW reactors, it was later complemented by another plan, altogether 34 units of 3-loop 900 MW reactors were built. In April 1977, the first PWR Fessenheim 1 was connected to the electricity grid. Power plants with a unit capacity of 1300 MW were built starting from 1979 (20 units). The construction effort continued until the end of the century, the fourth and last N4-type reactor with a unit capacity of 1450 MW was connected to the grid in 1999. By then, three-quarters of the electricity produced in France was of nuclear origin. Fifty-eight reactors were in operation in 19 power plants.

Figure 1: NPPs and other nuclear facilities in France (the two units at Fessenheim are no longer in operation since 2020)

Obviously, it would not have been possible to launch and develop successfully such an ambitious program without having the necessary skills and capabilities already in place at the outset of the program. Immediately after the end of World War II, under the leadership of General De Gaulle, France started developing its nuclear defence program and, transferring the accumulated know-how to the civil sector, developed a multitude of nuclear power technologies: the most important one was the gas-cooled, graphite-moderated technology using natural uranium. Nine such reactors were built. But there was also one heavy-water reactor, one PWR and two fast neutron sodium cooled reactors constructed by 1973

It is interesting to note that once France decided to abandon the graphite-gas reactor technology the intention was to develop an industrial policy based on both PWR (Westinghouse) and BWR (General Electric) technologies, creating competition and maintaining the independence of choice. Two orders were placed for BWRs, but the project was finally abandoned in July 1975, EDF then turning officially and only to PWRs, Westinghouse's licensed technology carried out and progressively indigenised by the “Franco-American atomic constructions” - Framatome. Hence the new program took benefit of the competitiveness and maturity of the American PWR technology and was supported by the construction of a uranium enrichment facility in France, enriched uranium being indispensable for light water reactors.

The speed of construction of the NPPs within this program remains unparalleled in the world, even China has not (so far at least) achieved the pace of construction that was achieved in France in the 1980s. In the sole year of 1981, 8 units were connected to the grid.

Figure 2: The schedule of construction of the French reactor fleet

In parallel with the development of its domestic nuclear program, France also had several successes in exporting the Framatome-designed 3-loop 900 MW reactors. Two units were commissioned in 1984 at Koeberg in South Africa, two units in 1988-89 at Hanul (previously Ulchin) in South Korea. France stood at the cradle of the Chinese nuclear program and made a major contribution to the training and development of first generation of Chinese nuclear specialists. Many of these are now at the helm of the Chinese nuclear industry and institutions. Two 900 MW units were built at Daya Bay in the Guangdong province, commissioned respectively in 1993 and 1994, and two more units at Ling Ao, just 1 km north of Daya Bay, commissioned in 2002. The two additional units at Ling Ao use the indigenised design CPR-1000, they were constructed in conjunction with Areva and are based on the French 3-loop design.

2. The genesis of the EPR and the projects in France, Finland, China and the UK

In 1989 Framatome and Siemens created a joint company called Nuclear Power International (NPI). Its main purpose is to develop the EPR, a Generation III+ reactor which complies with both French and German nuclear regulations. The initial goal was to work hand in hand between the French and German operators (EDF and a consortium of German utilities), regulators and the industries of the two countries, and build the EPR in France and in Germany. The main design objectives were increased safety while providing enhanced economic competitiveness through improvements to the previous generation of PWR designs scaled up to an electrical power output of around 1650 MWe with thermal power of about 4500 MW. The EPR is the evolutionary descendant of the Framatome N4 and Siemens "Konvoi" reactors, with the objective to extract the best of the two designs and to have the design licensed both by French and German safety authorities.

In 2001 the nuclear activities of Framatome and Siemens merged into a new company called Framatome ANP, the same year the AREVA Group was created by a merger of Framatome, Cogema (fuel cycle front end and back end) and Technicatome (nuclear propulsion systems). The branch AREVA NP where Siemens had a participation, was in charge of the EPR design.

Unfortunately, the EPR development did not have the necessary political support in the post-Chernobyl period, opposition against nuclear power was growing in France and even more so in Germany. Electricity generation from nuclear in Germany started to decrease from 2006 - well before Fukushima. Siemens withdrew from AREVA NP in 2009 and following the decision of Angela Merkel to phase-out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima accident, definitively ceased its nuclear activities in 2011. The Franco-German EPR design was thus left fully in the hands of the French, with multiple design features emanating from the German Konvoi concept. Some of them, like the pressuriser relief valves, required more than 10 years to be qualified according to the French regulations. Difficulties were also encountered for the in-core instrumentation, previously developed for the Konvoi reactors.

In 2003, after a long “nuclear winter” following the Chernobyl accident, Finland was the first European country to decide the construction of a new nuclear unit. AREVA, in consortium with Siemens, wished to benefit from a first mover advantage in the nuclear new-build market, bid a low price and signed a turnkey contract with TVO to build an EPR at Olkiluoto in 48 months for 3 billion euros.

In 2004 EDF decided to launch an EPR project in France, with a target commissioning date in 2012, to be followed starting in 2015 by a serial construction of several EPRs expected to be operational from 2020 onwards – at a time when the first units of the Messmer program would reach 40 years of operation. In 2006 the EDF Board made the final investment decision to build the EPR as a 3rd unit at the Flamanville site in Normandy, where two 1300 MW units were already in operation, with an anticipated budget of 3.3 billion euro and a construction time of 54 months. The main suppliers were AREVA NP for the nuclear island, Bouygues for the civil works and Alstom for the turbine island.

A second EPR was planned at the Penly site, early developments were also started in southern France for the construction of an ATMEA1 reactor. These projects were abandoned in 2012 on political grounds, under increasing anti-nuclear pressure and a lack of a rational long-term energy policy.

Figure 3: The EPR reactor: A – reactor building, B – 4 safeguard bldgs, C – fuel bldg, D – nuclear auxiliary bldg, E – radwaste processing bldg., F – emergency diesel bldg, G – turbine bldg, H – power transmission platform, I – operator bldg, J – pumphouse bldg, K – outfall structure, L – conventional electrical bldg.

Table 1: Main technical data of the FLA3 EPR reactor [1]

2.1 The first EPRs: what went wrong and why

It is an ambitious task to detail all the teething troubles, problems and hurdles that occurred during the construction of the different EPRs in general, and the FLA3 EPR in particular. A compilation of the most significant ones has been performed in the Folz report commissioned by EDF’s CEO and published in 2019. We will describe them, stressing those which offer the most useful lessons for the future.

The OL3 EPR was the FOAK EPR reactor and AREVA NP was the turnkey vendor. For FLA3, which started two years later, EDF was the owner and architect-engineer and AREVA NP was the designer and supplier of the nuclear island. Even though a joint engineering platform was established, partly because the two companies were competing on international markets, partly due to difficult relationships between the top managers of the two companies, the collaboration was far from smooth and the benefit of experience feedback from OL3 to FLA3 remained low.

The Taishan EPR in China (1st concrete in 2009, i.e. 4 years after OL3 and 2 years after FLA3), could benefit from the lessons learnt from its two predecessors in the early stages of construction. The integration of this experience feedback, combined with Chinese NPP construction experience and easy and fast access to qualified resources, enabled the Taishan construction to overtake both OL3 and FLA3. The flow of experience feedback reversed, allowing OL3 and FLA3 to benefit from the experience of Taishan in erection and commissioning activities. Consequently, the three projects were in many respects closely interrelated. On the other hand, since they were built in different countries with different regulatory frameworks resulting in differences in design, with different ownership and contractual structures, the experience feedback was not always directly transposable. The large differences in the regulatory environment and the lack of a stable proven detail design while the projects were progressing in parallel make each of them a FOAK, to a certain extent at least. We will therefore focus on the FLA3 project where EDF is the owner and future operator, and the architect-engineer of the entire project.

As of today, the two units at Taishan have been commissioned and demonstrate the pertinence of the design. Unit 1 ran quite smoothly for such a novel design during its 18-month first cycle. An increase of the primary circuit’s activity was reported during the second half of 2021. The activity increase was within the plant’s technical specifications, and the operator shut the reactor down to investigate the possible causes. Details appeared in the French media in November 2021. Fuel vibrations due to unexpected transverse thermohydraulic flows in the bottom part of the reactor vessel caused unwanted rod vibrations. Those in turn induced cladding erosion and leaks on a limited number of fuel assemblies. A similar problem was encountered as early as 2001 on the French 1300 MW units, using 14 feet fuel assemblies. The remedy at that time was to add a supplementary grid at the bottom of the assemblies to stiffen the mechanical structure and reduce the unwanted vibrations (fretting). It is expected that similar solutions will be adopted on EPR units.

The OL3 EPR is currently in operational testing phase. After unfortunate delays in the scheduled power ramp-up due to a metallic object found in the separator-reheater, the reactor was undergoing operational tests at 80% of nominal power by mid-August with full-power tests foreseen in September and regular commercial operation starting in January 2023. OL3 will supply about 14% of Finnish electricity.

For the FLA3 EPR the detected faults in the finishing standards of some of the pipe welding have now been repaired, hot testing is progressing, and fuel loading is foreseen in the second quarter of 2023.

Table 2: A summary of the main difficulties of the FLA3 EPR construction

An overview of the cost increase resulting from the main 4 categories of cost overruns is presented in Figure 4 below, together with a comparison with the as-built overnight cost of the Taishan EPR.

Figure 4: Main drivers and amounts of FLA3 cost overruns (OECD-NEA, 2020)

2.2. The Hinkley Point C EPR project in the UK

EDF purchased British Energy, now EDF Energy Nuclear Generation Ltd, in 2009 with the clear objective to participate in the UK new nuclear build programme. In September 2008, EDF announced plans to build a twin-unit EPR at Hinkley Point (Hinkley Point C – HPC), at a site where two gas-cooled reactors were built (Hinkley Point B Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor is still in operation, Hinkley Point A Magnox reactor is being decommissioned). For this purpose, a subsidiary – Nuclear New Build Generation Company (NNB) was created in 2009 to build and then operate the twin-EPR unit ad HPC and possibly a second one at Sizewell. At the end of 2012, EDF (jointly with AREVA) completed the UK's generic design assessment (GDA) process with the UK Safety authority (ONR) and were awarded the “Design Acceptance Confirmation” from the ONR and a “Statement of Design Acceptability” (SoDA) from the Environment Agency. In the same year EDF finalised the negotiation with the UK government of the “strike price” for electricity from HPC under the “Contract for Difference” (CfD) framework. The agreed strike price was £92.50/MWh (in 2012 prices), to be adjusted to inflation (£106/MWh by 2021) during the construction period and over the subsequent 35 years tariff period. The base strike price could fall to £89.50/MWh if a new plant at Sizewell was also approved. In 2014 the European Commission approved the project, i.e. confirmed that no state aid rules were breached. Long and difficult negotiations ensued related to completing the investor roundtable. Ultimately, the UK government agreed that Chinese CGN would take a one-third stake in the project. The Board of EDF made the final investment decision in 2016.

The first concrete of the NI was poured in the end of 2018. After the announcement of a 12-month delay in February 2021, partly attributable to the COVID pandemic, the Commercial Operation Date is currently scheduled in early 2027.

The HPC project benefits from the lessons learnt from the previous projects, albeit with some limitations. It faces its own lot of specific risks like the legal and political risks related to the agreements signed with the UK government and with the Chinese partner, exchange rate risk, or the risk of the still immature supply chains. The complexity of project organisation and governance, involving UK and French entities is being streamlined only progressively. The project schedule was constructed using a top-down approach and was excessively optimistic.

Two main reasons are at the origin of schedule and cost overruns (15 months for the first unit, 9 months for the second unit and 1 billion £ respectively) announced in 2019:

- The nature of the soils and the changes in the design of the buildings have led to a much higher volume of earthworks than had been calculated, for an additional cost of approximately £450 million.

- The requirement of the ONR to duplicate the digital safety control system with an analogue system led to a major revision of the design of the EPR. The need to run large numbers of cables, ensuring the evacuation of the heat they generate, installing dedicated control equipment necessitated a review of the architecture of the control buildings, their ventilation and their integration into the overall architecture.

As mentioned above, the NNB Generating Company prepares the construction of a second twin-EPR power station at Sizewell. Negotiations are ongoing with the UK government on the financing of the project, which will be different from HPC, with a stronger involvement and risk-taking by the government, which should lead to a lower price of electricity – this is the so-called Regulated Asset Base model, previously used to finance large public infrastructure projects. In terms of design, all efforts are being made to minimize the changes to those made strictly necessary by the new site, to maximise the experience feedback and re-use of methods, tools, project organisation and the supply chain.

3. The French nuclear new build program and development strategy

In face of the accumulation of difficulties in the construction of EPRs, and of the failure of France in the competition for the new NPP in the United Arab Emirates in 2009 and an effort was undertaken by the French Government and the nuclear industry to reorganise the overall industrial delivery structure for nuclear new build and to improve its governance. EDF was given a leading role in this new structure, progressively becoming a vertically integrated group covering operation and maintenance of the French nuclear fleet, integrating Framatome (ex AREVA NP) and shortly also the manufacturing of nuclear turbines, taking a leading role in the marketing, development, design, engineering, and construction of new units in France and abroad.

To mobilise and organise the French nuclear industry and the supply chain, a single professional union – the GIFEN (Grouping of French nuclear energy industrialists ) – was created in 2018. GIFEN brings together companies operating nuclear facilities, including very big companies, medium-sized, small sized and micro enterprises, professional organisations, and associations. GIFEN covers all types of industrial activities (studies, manufacturing, construction, maintenance, etc.) as well as all areas of nuclear electricity production (fuel cycle, research, power generation, equipment manufacturing, dismantling, etc.).

3.1. The EPR2 reactor and the near-term program for 3 EPR2 twins

In February 2022, President Macron announced the decision to launch the construction of 6 EPR2 reactors in France, and asked EDF to start a feasibility study for an additional 8 reactors. The first reactor should be operational around 2035, the program of the three twin-unit NPPs is expected to cost above 50 billion euros. The President also announced that a first demonstration SMR – the NUWARD™ 2x170 MWe reactor, should be built by 2030. He also requested EDF to study, in cooperation with the safety authority, the possibility of extending the lifetime of the existing fleet beyond 50 years.

The announcement was made during a visit to the Belfort factory manufacturing nuclear turbines, at the occasion of a buy-back operation of this strategic industrial facility from GE by EDF. The business was acquired by GE in 2015 as a part of a portfolio during its merger with the French equipment giant Alstom.

The EPR2 is a new model of high-power nuclear reactor developed by EDF from the EPR. It incorporates experience feedback from other EPR projects (FLA3, Taishan 1 and 2, Hinkley Point C1 and 2 and OL3) to improve its constructability and to reduce its cost and construction times. The EPR2 incorporates increased post-Fukushima nuclear safety requirements.

The necessity to integrate the experience feedback from the design, construction, and commissioning of the first EPRs and implement a certain number of modifications for the future series of EPRs appeared as early as 2010. Both EDF and AREVA worked on the development of such nuclear new build project in Poland. In 2014, the development was moved to a dedicated project structure and the tag EPR NM (New Model) was given to the modified design. The safety options file was submitted by EDF to the safety authority in 2016. Several important design parameters were frozen by EDF’s new build engineering division in 2017. Specifically, the thermal power level was chosen identical to Taishan’s or 4590 MWth in order to keep the primary circuit components as close as possible to those of Taishan. This concerns both the design parameters, the fabrication processes, and the fabrication plants. The Nuclear Island Building was simplified with respect to Flamanville 3 and Taishan (see details below). Engineering teams were requested to adopt industrial standards for equipment such as piping, cables, pumps, doors etc. with and without nuclear requirements. The number of safety trains was reduced from 4 to 3, which led to the abandonment of some maintenance capabilities, and ultimately to the reduction of the availability factor kd.

This subsequent technical configuration of the concept was then named EPR2. A new safety options file was submitted to the nuclear safety regulator (ASN) who approved it (2018) allowing the launch of the basic design phase in 2017 and its completion in 2021. A preliminary safety report was submitted in 2021 based on this technical basic design and is currently under review (September 2022).

We will distinguish three types of evolutions of the EPR2 compared to the FLA3 EPR, as the result from different aspects of the experience feedback:

1. Design changes (see Table 3)

2. Evolutions resulting from the opinion of the safety authorities to ensure smooth EPR2 licensability (see Table 4)

3. Evolutions in design engineering, equipment manufacturing, plant construction and overall project organisation management and governance (see Table 5)

Table 3: The most important design changes of EPR2 compared to FLA3 EPR

Table 4: The most important evolutions resulting from opinions expressed by the safety authority

Table 5: Main evolutions in design engineering, equipment manufacturing, plant construction and overall project organisation management and governance [3]

It should be pointed out that the 6 EPR2 program (3 twin units, 2 with direct cooling by seawater and one with indirect river cooling using cooling towers) is conceived as a single program maximising the series effect with design changes limited to the strict minimum, using identical equipment and the same suppliers and contractors across the program wherever feasible.

Figure 4: General view of the EPR2 reactor (3D model)

3.2. NUWARD – the French SMR designed to replace coal-fired power plants

It is not the objective of this paper to present in detail the NUWARD™ SMR project. It is, however, an important component of the new dynamic of the French and European nuclear sector and it is in this context that we shortly present it here.

France has considerable experience with compact reactors for propulsion systems, used on its fleet of submarines and aircraft carriers. Several concepts of SMRs were developed over the recent years. Not surprisingly, one of them was the “SEANERGY” submerged SMR concept. In a move to concentrate and focus the efforts of the industry in one common direction, considering the existing experience and expertise, and based on extensive market research and analysis, the decision was made to develop a GEN III+, pressurised water SMR NPP to generate a total net electrical power of 340 MW(e) from two independent reactor modules of 170 MWe each to offer flexible operation. NUWARD™ is an integral-PWR that fully integrates the main components of the Nuclear Steam Supply System (NSSS) including control rod drive mechanisms, steam generators and pressurizer within the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV). Adopting a shortened RPV, the NSSS is installed in a steel containment submerged in an underground water pool allowing for enhanced in-factory manufacturing. It is developed under the leadership of EDF with the support of the CEA, Naval Group and Technicatome, bringing together the best expertise and experience in the relevant fields that are called to contribute to the success of the project.

The main target of NUWARD™ is the replacement of existing fossil electricity and combined heat and power sources in the range of 200-400 MWe. Considering only countries already using nuclear power or open to nuclear power, EDF identified more than 3300 installations in this market segment, of which 60% are more than 20 years old, 30% are more than 30 years old. From the French perspective this is a clear export target since in France there are no fossil-fired generation facilities in this segment. Despite this export focus, it is obvious that to trigger the export dynamics, a reference plant should be built and licensed in the home country. It was therefore decided to build the FOAK NUWARD™ in France by 2030. A dedicated project structure was established within EDF. The design is driven by the industrialisation objectives and is resolutely turned to be an all-European endeavour, involving European partners in development, European supply chain, European regulators.

Figure 5: The NUWARD ™ SMR concept

3.3. Projects, plans and ambitions for nuclear new build abroad and international coo


Despite the prevailing unsupportive attitude and policies in relation to nuclear power in the EU and in France in the last two decades, the French nuclear industry succeeded in winning nuclear new build contracts abroad, even though it has ceded the global leadership to the Russian Group Rosatom.

We have already mentioned the EPR projects at Taishan in China and at Hinkley Point in the UK.

The most probable next project should be the Sizewell C twin-unit EPR in the UK, where the negotiations with the UK government are progressing. The UK government recently provided funding of £ 100 million to facilitate further development of the project, demonstrating its strong support for the development of large-scale nuclear power to ensure Britain’s future energy supply based on reliable, affordable, low carbon power. The money will be invested by EDF into the project to help bring it to maturity, attract investors, and advance to the next phase in negotiations. The Sizewell C project will be an exact replica of Hinkley Point C, thus bringing down construction costs.

EDF is in advanced negotiations in India for the construction of 6 EPR units at Jaitapur in the Maharashtra state on the west coast of India. EDF submitted to NPCIL in April 2021 a binding offer for the engineering and procurement scope for the construction of the 6 EPRs.

EDF is one of the three bidders participating in the tender for the Dukovany 5 NPP in the Czech Republic, proposing an EPR1200 reactor, a scaled-down version of the EPR, presumably based on the EPR2 concept.

Finally, EDF submitted a preliminary non-binding offer to the Polish government for the engineering, procurement, and construction of 4 to 6 EPRs across 2 to 3 sites. This preliminary offer covers all key parameters of the program such as plant configuration, industrial scheme, plans for the development of the local supply chain, cost estimate and schedule. The offer aims at meeting the objectives of the Polish Nuclear Power Program (PPEJ) adopted by the Polish government in October 2020. The offer is in competition with the US offering the AP1000 reactor from Westinghouse and presumably with KHNP of South Korea with the APR1400 technology.

The objective of EDF is to develop European long-term partnerships and benefit from synergies across different EPR projects in Europe, from developing European supply chains, and local industrial capabilities.

With the wind progressively turning in favour of nuclear power driven by the geopolitical context, growing public acceptance, climate imperatives and simply physical realities, we may expect and hope that more countries will embark on nuclear power and allow the industry to progress, increase its level of maturity and excellence, create highly qualified jobs. Unfaltering long-term political and institutional support will be a key success factor in this endeavour.

3.4. The EU Green Deal and nuclear power in France and in Europe

Nuclear power provides about one quarter of electricity in the EU, it is the largest source of low-carbon electricity. The ambitious GHG emissions-cutting targets by 2030 and carbon neutrality target in 2050, as formulated in the EU Green Deal, cannot be achieved without a major contribution of nuclear power. Relying on gas as a back-up to intermittent renewables, developed massively (and – in the authors’ view – excessively) in the EU is not only unsustainable from the climate perspective, from the resource availability perspective but also from the geostrategic perspective as the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine has painfully and tragically demonstrated. Different studies have shown that the economically optimal share of intermittent renewables in the grid is somewhere around 35% in Europe, not to speak about technical constraints. If we discard fossil fuels, the only low-carbon option is nuclear. The overall resource of biomass and geothermal – other dispatchable low-carbon sources – is too low to contribute at the required scale. In the UK, no longer in the EU but traditionally pragmatic, the Climate Change Committee reckons the UK needs around 40% of the low-carbon electricity to be reliable (or “firm”) rather than intermittent. Today, the only proven “firm” and large-scale, low-carbon technology is nuclear.

Up to now, we have seen two competing approaches: the “German” one, opposed to nuclear power, promoting the maximum use of renewables, and using gas as back-up, and the “French” one combining intermittent renewables with dispatchable nuclear power. The member states supporting the former seem to be losing ground, the number of member states supporting the latter is growing, especially in countries with limited renewable resources. The EU green taxonomy negotiations resulted in a compromise to consider both gas and nuclear as transitional solutions to a “green” electricity generation system based solely on renewables. The war in Ukraine has reshuffled the cards significantly; physical, and geopolitical realities are increasingly imposing themselves.

The first decision we would expect from the European Commission in redefining the road map of the Green Deal in the post-Russian-aggression-to-Ukraine world would be to prohibit shutting down operating nuclear power plants on any other than safety grounds (decided solely by independent safety authorities), and to maximise efforts to extend the lifetime of existing nuclear power plants in all member states that operate them. The decision of France to launch without delay the program of 3 twin-unit nuclear plants using the EPR2 reactor is a tangible and measurable contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions in the EU, to reaching the Green Deal climate goals and to increasing energy security of France and of the EU.

4. Conclusion

The success of the French nuclear program (1973-2000) was the result of a national ambition driven and supported without faltering by all the political parties that succeeded one another in power. Beyond the success of the construction, the nuclear operator EDF and the nuclear industry have demonstrated the ability to operate and maintain the fleet over the years with a high level of performance, despite a much more complex environment of the electricity sector in the last 20 years, marked by the shift from a monopoly situation through unbundling to the electricity market mechanism that required some very artificial measures to “create” competition in a country where the bulk of generation capacities remained in the hands of EDF.

Nuclear power requires long-term commitment, sustained political and institutional support. The growing political influence of ecological parties, forged in the fight against nuclear power, put them in the position of kingmakers. To win elections, dominant political parties, right and left, made concessions to the ecologists. In Germany and Belgium, this resulted in the decisions to abandon nuclear power altogether. In France, this resulted in the decision to close the fast reactor Superphénix, in the decision to reduce the share of nuclear power to 50% as early as 2025 (later postponed to 2035, hopefully to be abandoned soon) and to shut down the 2 reactors at Fessenheim. The term “shameful nuclear” was coined in France. This was clearly not the environment to support ambitious nuclear programs. Without unfettered political support, receiving contradictory and ever-changing political messages and instructions, the nuclear industry was in a wait-and-see attitude, unable to develop a long-term strategy, minimising investment in people, technology, innovation. This is not the only cause but one of the causes that contributed to the difficulties of the EPR development. Other causes, in particular those listed in the Folz report have been recalled in this paper.

In recent months we observe positive shifts in France and in the EU, imposed by objective physical and geopolitical realities and underpinned by clear positions of reputed international scientific and technical institutions on the indispensable role of nuclear power in combatting climate change and for ensuring energy security. The European Commission included nuclear power in the taxonomy and clearly stated that nuclear power is a solution to reach the Green Deal objectives in countries that elect to use it. In France, the state is creating the necessary strategic and financial framework, setting policies, making decisions to allow a genuine nuclear renaissance to take shape. The program for the construction of 6 EPR2 reactors is now clearly framed. The nuclear industry can again develop a long-term vision, it is working hard to improve its designs, industrial quality in the factories and the management of its projects and construction sites, working hard to learn the lessons from the past, to recruit, train and develop the required talent. All this does not happen overnight, but the momentum is back, and this is extremely encouraging.


[1] J.M. Folz. “RAPPORT au Président Directeur Général d’EDF - La construction de l’EPR de Flamanville“ 2019 (in French)

[2] Serge Marguet. “La technologie des Réacteurs à Eau Pressurisée”, EDP Sciences, 2019 (in French)

[3] « La synthèse de l’audit sur les coûts du réacteur EPR2 commandé en 2019. « (in French)


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