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French Bill Accelerates Nuclear Construction and Removes Cap

Policies that involve phasing out nuclear seem to be losing favor 

France, the country with the highest proportion of nuclear power on its grid, and the second overall highest in raw gigawatts, has for years been embroiled in political battles over the country’s energy future. There has been a push to phase out nuclear power in the country that gets around two thirds of its electricity from its nuclear fleet at present. Current French President Emmanuel Macron has wavered on the issue over the years, but currently appears to favor the continuation of the nuclear centric approach to electricity production that the country currently employs.  

On Tuesday May 16th, the French Parliament voted to adopt the proposed law entitled, “Bill on the acceleration of procedures related to the construction of new nuclear facilities near existing nuclear sites and the operation of existing facilities” which will simplify the procedure for constructing new nuclear reactors and repeal the provision from the Energy Code under the Energy Policy Objectives heading that sought “To reduce the share of nuclear power in electricity production to 50% by 2035.” Nuclear’s share of electricity production in France was 63 percent last year, and 68 percent in 2021. Because of this, the regulation coming into effect would have essentially required the idling or closure of some of the country’s existing nuclear fleet.

The target date of the 50 percent cap was initially 2025, and the 2014 bill that established it, the Energy Transition for Green Growth bill, also established a cap on nuclear capacity at 63.2 GW. 

In 2018 a new energy plan changed that date to 2035 and stipulated that France would shut down 14 reactors, two of which, Fessenheim 1 and 2, were retired in 2020. In addition to removing the 50 percent cap set for 2035, the new bill also removes the 63.2 GW cap, essential for new nuclear construction without closures. Now that these provisions have been repealed, it will be interesting to see whether the other retirements materialize, but that appears far less likely now.

The new bill also contains provisions to simplify the planning and approvals process for new reactor construction. The bill will allow non-nuclear related preparations such as parking lots and fencing to begin before a creation authorization decree is formally issued by the Nuclear Safety Authority. This allows projects to get going before they would otherwise be able to, and will be helpful to a project at the Penly power plant which currently has one operating unit, in operation since 1990, and where future units are planned. 

France has the highest nuclear concentration in the world, and it’s good to see them take a substantive step away from voluntarily squandering that resource. This is especially true in the wake of the final German exit from nuclear power earlier this year and its consequences to electrity prices and availability. It looks as though other countries, especially in Europe, are learning the lesson of Germany’s failed energy policy, and are taking steps to prevent the same thing from happening to them. 

Paige Lambermont is a Research Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the Center for Energy and Environment. She covers the electrical grid, energy regulation, nuclear power issues, and other free-market energy topics. Paige has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from American University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Idaho. She is also a Columnist Fellow at Catalyst.
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