A High Cost if France Abandons Nuclear




The Socialist Party and erstwhile Green party electoral allies are in an arcane spat over the future of a European Pressurized Reactor plant at Flamanville (Manche), at a time when political pressure is mounting to abandon nuclear, France’s principal form of energy security.

Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant is located on the Cotentin Peninsula, Image by Areva

(Read more here online)
Basically however their argument is over the direction of future energy policy in France where, despite encouraging signs elsewhere in the world, the prevailing ethos remains supportive of an expensive and unrealistic EU-driven sustainable energy option (wind, wave and solar) in place of cheap nuclear.

Indeed there are signs that the nuclear question, driven by additional ongoing concerns post- Fukushima,  could become a hot potato in both presidential and general elections due in 2012.

François Hollande, the socialist hopeful in next year’s presidential elections has called for a cut from 75% to 50% in the use of nuclear power generation by 2030. Pierre Moscovici,  his probable future presidential campaign director, has made clear that his candidate “will build Flamanville”  if elected as head of state.

Eva Joly, presidential election candidate for the Greens — Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) says Greens totally oppose Flamanville and any electoral programme and platform uniting them with the Socialists depends on a PS agreement to stop further construction on the site. Citing the gauche plurielle approach by former Socialist PM Lionel Jospin in 1997 when he agreed to abandon the Superphénix nuclear generator in order to tie up a pluralist left platform deal with the Greens, she said: “It is traditional for the Socialists to take into account the demands of their associates or partners”.

Her message however does not appear to be resonating in the Socialist camp.

Indeed a former Socialist PM Michel Rocard told TV5-Monde and RFI November 13 that this “need (on the part of some politicians) to attack nuclear energy (power generation) is madness.” He said France as a country “needs energy security and must come to terms with nuclear. I sincerely hope that the Greens are aware that we have entered the period of peak oil and in the next 7 or 8 years, there will be a frenetic fall in available oil resources”.

Watch this part of his TV interview here:

Discussing alternatives M. Rocard went on: “Coal kills many more people than does nuclear power which is far less dangerous than people believe”.  The former PM urged France “to find nuclear serenity”.

In a clear effort to focus minds on energy reality (as opposed to alternative energy fantasy), the French Union of Electricity (UFE, an industry lobby that includes utilities such as EDF, and GDF Suez) has released a report on the economic cost of reducing nuclear generation in France.

It offers three scenarios. According to Le Figaro the three scenarios examined in the report relate to a cut in nuclear energy power generation — 75% of the nation’s needs today  — to 70%, 50% and 20%.

The three scenarios directly play into the next election — the ruling UMP defends the absolute primacy of nuclear, the PS under Hollande want a 50% reduction and the Greens seek simply to ditch the multi-billion euro industry entirely.

Leftwing lineup for the presidentials – Montage JDD

Rightwing lineup for the presidentials – Montage JDD

Robert Durdilly, UFE president, said it was essential that the country retained a balanced energy mix, which in turn has an impact on its currently very positive CO2 emissions balance. UFE estimates that greenhouse gas emissions would be multiplied by a factor of 1.3 in the event of the introduction of a “nuclear 50%” scenario and a factor of three in the “nuclear 20%” scenario.

UFE says such a move would require an additional capital investment of 60 billion euros, and increase consumer energy bills by 50% over the next twenty years. François Hollande has called for a cut in nuclear based electricity generation from 75% to 50% by 2030. For its part UFE is keen to point out how much each voter will have to pay as a result.

UFE’s Robert Durdilly also concedes there is a need for the industry to invest 322 billion euros in France’s electricity generating network over the next 20 years. A continuity scenario requires massive investment “including extension of the life of existing nuclear power plants, and upgrading and strengthening networks of renewable energy”, he said.

Assuming a “nuclear 50%” scenario would cost 382 billion euros, an additional 60 billion compared to baseline. A “nuclear 20%” scenario would mean additional costs almost doubling to 112 billion euros, UFE said.

UFE adds that the impact on consumers would be significant. By its projections householders would see their electricity bill rise by 50% over twenty years if France reduced its dependence on nuclear generation to “nuclear 50%”.  Thus families would find themselves paying 189 euros per megawatt hour (MWh), including taxes for domestic electricity, against 126 euros/ MWh in 2010. Compare this to the more than 220 euros/ MWh that German households pay for electricity today.

For businesses, the scenarios are tough with prospective increases of 41% if energy policy is unchanged, and 65% under “nuclear 50%” scenario. This would mean the electricity bill for French companies would rise from 78 to 129 euros/ MWh, still permitting them to retain some competitive advantage over  German and Belgian competitors. But the more the nuclear share is lowered, the greater the need to use fossil fuels such as gas or coal, whose prices are more volatile, says UFE.

Jean-François Raux, a UFE technical expert said: “We cannot make use only of nuclear or only of renewable energy in managing national energy demand, we must also rely on other means of production because wind and solar are intermittent by nature, and unable to meet network base load”.

UFE says under a “nuclear 50%” scenario its assessment is that the share of renewable energy that would be needed would have to double to 34%, hand in hand with greater reliance on oil, gas and coal which would all rise from the current 7% to 16%. In turn, warns Robert Durdilly, we will then need to build,  “10,000 wind turbines across the Ile-de-France, along with 60 gas plants, and what would public opinion say to that”?

Increased need for fossil fuels under such a scenario would also impact on greenhouse gas emissions which France is now largely spared thanks to nuclear power. In the case of accelerated use of oil, gas and coal French emissions would rise to 439 million tonnes of CO2 in 2030, against 370 million in 2010.

According to the World Nuclear Association:

  • France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy. This is due to a long-standing policy based on energy security.
  • France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation, and gains over 3 billion euros per year from this.
  • France has been very active in developing nuclear technology. Reactors and fuel products and services are a major export.
  • It is building its first Generation III reactor and planning a second.
  • About 17% of France’s electricity is from recycled nuclear fuel.

For more details on the Flamanville plant see here, while EDF has videos of the plant here

Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

UPDATE: SORTIR DU NUCLEAIRE’
A reader, Mr Tony Smith, points, in the comments, to the following website on which alternative arguments to those sustained in this article are set out.

In the interests of balance we are happy to link here to the  ‘sortir du nucleaire’ website and welcome any other contributions to/comments on this important issue of France’s future energy supply.

According to the SdN site, accessible in French and English: “The Network ‘SORTIR DU NUCLEAIRE’ is currently the main French antinuclear coalition, with a membership of 920 organizations and 54 333 individual subscribers”.

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9 Responses to A High Cost if France Abandons Nuclear

  1. Tony Smith November 14, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    The repeated ‘UFE says’ in this article show that the author is sold (out?) to nuclear power. ‘UFE’ doesn’t say for example that the several billions wasted on the Flamanville EPR (that even EDF do not want according to ‘The Tribune’) could have been better used to insulate homes properly and thereby reduce demand. A more balanced viewpoint is required in this very important subject. Here’s a link to the ‘sortir du nucleaire’ site for starters http://www.sortirdunucleaire.org/

  2. www.French-News-Online.com November 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Thank you for your comment and the link Tony (report updated to include it) and for your concerns about ‘balance’ in the piece.
    While the editor personally is not beholden to anyone, this paper editorially does back nuclear energy as the least worse alternative at this time and certainly cheaper than any of the so-called sustainable alternatives. That said we would be much happier if French nuclear power were thorium-driven!

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