Paris, France | Thu, February 10, 2022
Despite reservations about the cost and complexity of building additional reactors, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to authorize a large nuclear power plant program on Thursday. The head of state will go to a key turbine production plant in eastern France on a pre-election tour dedicated to energy policy and the future of the country’s atomic sector, which supplies roughly 70 percent of French electricity.
Since the 1970s, low-priced nuclear power has been a backbone of the French economy, but recent attempts to replace outdated reactors with newer versions have been beset with cost overruns and delays.
Macron is expected to declare that state-controlled energy firm EDF will build at least six additional reactors by 2050, with an option for another eight, according to a source close to the president who spoke on the condition of anonymity to AFP. “It (nuclear) is environmentally friendly since it allows us to produce carbon-free electricity, contributes to our energy independence, and delivers electricity that is highly competitive,” another presidential aide told reporters on Wednesday.
Whatever the 44-year-old chief of state reveals will rely on the outcome of presidential elections in April, though, with his challengers likely to examine and amend his suggestions if they defeat him. With the exception of hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and Greens candidate Yannick Jadot, who oppose it on environmental grounds, most presidential contenders have pledged to continue investing in the business.
The French government fought hard — and won — to get nuclear power designated as “green” by the European Commission in a landmark energy assessment released this month, allowing it to seek funding as a climate-friendly power source.
Macron has emphasized that nuclear energy is necessary to aid industrialized economies in their transition to a low-carbon future, with ministers frequently referencing German policy as an example of what can happen if it is abandoned.
Following the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Germany chose to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022, although the decision has been criticized for increasing Berlin’s reliance on carbon-emitting gas and raising power bills.
The new French programs come as EDF, which is severely in debt, struggles to develop its latest-generation EPR reactors in separate projects in France, the United Kingdom, and Finland.
Its flagship French project, near Flamanville in northern France, is expected to cost around four times the initial budget of 3.3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) and will not be loaded with fuel until next year at the earliest — 11 years later than expected. Jadot has described the Flamanville overruns as “a fiasco at the expense of the French taxpayers.”
According to the aide, Macron plans to lay out his vision for “our future energy mix, including nuclear but also renewables and energy efficiency.” He’ll talk at Belfort, which is home to an important manufacturing facility that makes turbines for future power plants.
In 2015, French industrial giant Alstom sold the plant to American rival General Electric in a widely panned deal linked to Macron, who was then the Socialist government’s economy minister.
More than a thousand jobs were lost as a result of the divestment, and there were fears that a critical industry might be lost to a foreign investor. Under pressure from the French government, EDF announced Thursday that it had agreed a deal to buy back the unit at a cost of 200 million dollars (175 million euros).