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Nuclear Power in France

(Updated July 2014)

  • 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 EUR 3 billion 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.
  • About 17% of France's electricity is from recycled nuclear fuel.

France Nuclear Power Map

In 2011 French electricity generation was 542 billion kWh net, and consumption was 478 billion kWh (down from 513 billion kWh in 2010 due to being a mild year) – about 6800 kWh per person. Winter demand varies by 2300 MWe per degree C. Over the last decade France has exported up to 70 billion kWh net each year and EdF expects exports to continue at 65-80 TWh/yr, principally to Switzerland and Italy, as well as to Germany, Belgium, Spain, and UK. In 2011, net export was 56 billion kWh, and in 2012, 44.5 billion kWh.

France has 58 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF), with total capacity of over 63 GWe, supplying 421 billion kWh per year of electricity (net), 78% of the total generated there in 2011.

Total generating capacity (end 2011) is 126 GWe, including 25 GWe hydro, 28 GWe fossil fuel, 6.6 GWe wind and 2.2 GWe solar PV. Peak demand is about 100 GWe. In 2012 gross production was 425 billion kWh from nuclear, 62.5 from hydro, 22.5 from coal, 20.5 from natural gas, 19.5 from solar and wind, and 7.5 from biofuels & waste, of total 561 billion kWh.

The present situation is due to the French government deciding in 1974, just after the first oil shock, to expand rapidly the country's nuclear power capacity, using Westinghouse technology. This decision was taken in the context of France having substantial heavy engineering expertise but few indigenous energy resources. Nuclear energy, with the fuel cost being a relatively small part of the overall cost, made good sense in minimising imports and achieving greater energy security.

As a result of the 1974 decision, France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of CO2 emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.

In mid-2010 a regular energy review of France by the International Energy Agency urged the country increasingly to take a strategic role as provider of low-cost, low-carbon base-load power for the whole of Europe rather than to concentrate on the energy independence which had driven policy since 1973.

Recent energy policy

In 1999 a parliamentary debate reaffirmed three main planks of French energy policy: security of supply (France imports more than half its energy), respect for the environment (especially re greenhouse gases) and proper attention to radioactive waste management. It was noted that natural gas had no economic advantage over nuclear for base-load power, and its prices were very volatile. It was accepted that there was no way renewables and energy conservation measures could replace nuclear energy in the foreseeable future.

Early in 2003 France's first national energy debate was announced, in response to a "strong demand from the French people", 70% of whom had identified themselves as being poorly informed on energy questions. A poll had shown that 67% of people thought that environmental protection was the single most important energy policy goal. However, 58% thought that nuclear power caused climate change while only 46% thought that coal burning did so. The debate was to prepare the way for defining the energy mix for the next 30 years in the context of sustainable development at a European and at a global level.

In 2005 a law established guidelines for energy policy and security. The role of nuclear power is central to this, along with specific decisions concerning the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), notably to build an initial unit so as to be able to decide by 2015 on building a series of about 40 of them. It also set out research policy for developing innovative energy technologies consistent with reducing carbon dioxide emissions and it defined the role of renewable energies in the production of electricity, in thermal uses and transport.

Early in 2008 a Presidential decree established a top-level Nuclear Policy Council (Conseil Politique Nucleaire – CPN), underlining the importance of nuclear technologies to France in terms of economic strength, notably power supply. It is chaired by the President and includes prime minister as well as cabinet secretaries in charge of energy, foreign affairs, economy, industry, foreign trade, research and finance. The head of the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the secretary general of national defence and the military chief of staff are on the council.

In February 2011 the CPN addressed the rivalry between Areva (over 90% government-owned) and Electricité de France (EdF, 85% government-owned). This is presumed to have been a factor in losing an important Middle Eastern nuclear power plant contract 14 months earlier. Areva is the world's largest nuclear company, EdF is the largest nuclear electric utility, and set to build new Areva EPR plants in France, UK, China and possibly USA.

The Council directed Areva and EdF to put in place a technical and commercial agreement by mid-year for a strategic partnership to improve the design for the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) and work together more closely on several fronts domestically. This agreement was signed in July 2011, covering optimization of Areva's 1,650-MW EPR design that EdF is building at Flamanville 3, improving maintenance and operation of EdF's reactor fleet, and nuclear fuel cycle developments, including new fuels and final disposal of radwaste. EdF appears to have the leading role in this, and particularly in export efforts. CPN told Areva to spin off its uranium mining into a subsidiary company "as a preliminary step to study strategic and financial scenarios to ensure its development."

Following the election of President Francois Hollande in 2012 with his policy to reduce the proportion of nuclear power in the energy mix, a new wide ‘national debate on energy transition’ was called, which ran eight months to July 2013. The Ministry for Ecology Sustainable Development and Energy counted 170,000 people taking part in 1000 regional debates, and received 1200 submissions over the Internet. A summary of the debate was to be presented at a national environmental conference in September 2013. A draft law will follow, to be debated in parliament. Meanwhile a French parliamentary commission called on the government to delay its planned reduction of nuclear power and phase it over several decades, as part of its energy transition to promote green energy. A report published in September 2013 by OPECST, a scientific commission of senators and MPs from the upper and lower houses of Parliament, said France risks being exposed to a power price shock if it pursues a speedy reduction of nuclear power and there is insufficient replacement through renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

Policy for nuclear exports

The Nuclear Policy Council (CPN) in 2011 called on Areva, EdF, GdF-Suez and "other stakeholders" to strengthen their collaboration on the Atmea1 power reactor. This is a medium-sized (1100 MWe) Generation III design being developed under a 2006 joint venture by Areva NP and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The reactor is intended for marketing primarily to countries embarking upon nuclear power programs, although CPN says that construction of an initial Atmea1 in France, as proposed by GdF Suez, will be considered. In addition, the Ministry of Energy will lead a working group to look into the technical, legal and economic aspects of small (100-300 MWe) reactor designs.

The Nuclear Sector Strategy Committee (CSFN) was set up in February 2011 by the CPN and comprises representatives of 80 companies and industry organizations. It is headed up by EdF. The CSFN Fund for Modernization of Nuclear Enterprises, has seed money of EUR 133 million, with EUR 50 million being contributed each by France’s public investment bank through its sovereign investment fund, FSI, and EDF. Areva will contribute EUR 13 million, Alstom EUR 10 million, and the three largest civil engineering and construction firms, Bouyges, Vinci and Eiffage, the rest. It is an expression of French determination to regain a major role in nuclear exports through “patriotic solidarity.” A new trade association, Gifen, is envisaged.

With the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) coordinating national policy, CPN told it to negotiate with Chinese authorities to establish a comprehensive partnership between the two countries on all aspects of the civil nuclear power sector, including safety. This could include development of a new 1000 MWe Generation III reactor with China, probably with China Guangdong Nuclear Power group (CGNPC) and based on the successful CPR-1000 in which Areva retains some intellectual property rights. CGNPC refers to this as Generation II+, and has said that it is on a development trajectory with the design which will eliminate those rights by 2013 and make it exportable Generation III standard. The French nuclear safety authority (ASN) is adamant that there should be no French involvement with any nuclear power project using a reactor design that is not licensable in France. (EdF's China involvement is in holding 30% of the Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Limited – TNPC, which is building the twin EPR power plant at Taishan – CGNPC holds the balance.)

These 2011 policy developments incorporate the role of the Agence France Nucleaire International (AFNI), created in May 2008 under CEA to provide a vehicle for international assistance. Its purpose is to help to set up structures and systems to enable the establishment of civil nuclear programs in countries wanting to develop them and will draw on all of the country's expertise in this. It is guided by a steering committee comprising representatives of all the ministries involved (Energy, Foreign affairs, Industry, Research, etc) as well as representatives of other major French nuclear institutions including the CEA itself and Institute for Radiological Protection & Nuclear Safety (IRSN). Its work will be confined to countries with which France has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement, among the 40 countries which have sought assistance from France. It will function on a fee for service basis.

Economic factors

France's nuclear power program cost some FF 400 billion in 1993 currency*, excluding interest during construction. Half of this was self-financed by EdF, 8% (FF 32 billion) was invested by the state but discounted in 1981, and 42% (FF 168 billion) was financed by commercial loans. In 1988 medium and long-term debt amounted to FF 233 billion, or 1.8 times EdF's sales revenue. However, by the end of 1998 EdF had reduced this to FF 122 billion, about two thirds of sales revenue (FF 185 billion) and less than three times annual cash flow. Net interest charges had dropped to FF 7.7 billion (4.16% of sales) by 1998.

* 6.56 FF = EUR 1 (Jan 1999)

In 2006 EdF sales revenue was EUR 58.9 billion and debt had fallen to EUR 14.9 billion – 25% of this. EdF early in 2009 estimated that its reactors provided power at EUR 4.6 cents/kWh and the energy regulator CRE put the figure at 4.1 c/kWh. The weighted average of regulated tariffs is EUR 4.3 c/kWh. In 2011 a report commissioned by the prime minister put costs at 4.6 c/kWh, and this was confirmed following review by the national court of auditors, with the comment that it could increase by 0.3c to account for higher back-end costs. Power from the new EPR units is expected to cost about EUR 5.5 to 6.0 c/kWh. In 2014 the official auditor, Cour des Comptes, said the cost of nuclear power production had increased 20% between 2010 and 2013.

From being a net electricity importer through most of the 1970s, France has become the world's largest net electricity exporter, with electricity being the fourth largest export. (Next door is Italy, without any operating nuclear power plants. It is Europe's largest importer of electricity, most coming ultimately from France.) The UK has also become a major customer for French electricity.

France's nuclear reactors comprise 90% of EdF's capacity and hence are used in load-following mode (see section below) and are even sometimes closed over weekends, so their capacity factor is low by world standards, at 77.3%. However, availability is almost 84% and increasing.

Reactor engineering and new build

The first eight power reactors were gas-cooled, as championed by the Atomic Energy Authority (CEA), but EdF then chose pressurised water reactor (PWR) types, supported by new enrichment capacity and fully indigenous manufacturing. EdF plans for some BWR units did not proceed.

All French units (the first two derived from US Westinghouse types) are now PWRs of three standard types designed by Framatome (now AREVA): 3-loop 900 MWe (34), 4-loop 1300 MWe P4 type (20) and finally 4-loop 1450 MWe N4 type (4). This is a higher degree of standardisation than anywhere else in the world. (There have been two fast reactors – Phenix which ran for over 30 years, and Super Phenix, which was commissioned but then closed for political reasons.) French development of the 4-loop 1300 MWe design flowed back to later US plants, and the 1450 MWe N4 design evolved from it.

Exports: The well-established 900 MWe PWR design was sold to several export markets: Iran (2), South Africa (2) and South Korea (2) and China (4). There are two 900 MWe French reactors operating at Koeberg, near Cape Town in South Africa, two at Hanul/Ulchin in South Korea and four at Daya Bay/Ling Ao in China, near Hong Kong. The deal with Iran collapsed politically in 1979 and the engineering components retained in France were built at Gravelines. China's CPR-1000 design is based on the four French M310 units.

French nuclear power reactors

Class Reactor MWe net, each Commercial operation
900 MWe Blayais 1-4
910
12/81, 2/83, 11/83, 10/83
  Bugey 2-3
910
3/79, 3/79
  Bugey 4-5
880
7/79-1/80
  Chinon B 1-4
905
2/84, 8/84, 3/87, 4/88
  Cruas 1-4
915
4/84, 4/85, 9/84, 2/85
  Dampierre 1-4
890
9/80, 2/81, 5/81, 11/81
  Fessenheim 1-2
880
12/77, 3/78
  Gravelines B 1-4
910
11/80, 12/80, 6/81, 10/81
  Gravelines C 5-6
910
1/85, 10/85
  Saint-Laurent B 1-2
915
8/83, 8/83
  Tricastin 1-4
915
12/80, 12/80, 5/81, 11/81
1300 MWe Belleville 1 & 2
1310
6/88, 1/89
  Cattenom 1-4
1300
4/87, 2/88, 2/91, 1/92
  Flamanville 1-2
1330
12/86, 3/87
  Golfech 1-2
1310
2/91, 3/94
  Nogent s/Seine 1-2
1310
2/88, 5/89
  Paluel 1-4
1330
12/85, 12/85, 2/86, 6/86
  Penly 1-2
1330
12/90, 11/92
  Saint-Alban 1-2
1335
5/86, 3/87
N4 – 1450 MWe Chooz B 1-2
1500
12/96, 1999
  Civaux 1-2

1495

1999, 2000
  Total (58)
63,130
 

Differences in net power among almost identical reactors is usually due to differences in cold sources for cooling

Framatome in conjunction with Siemens in Germany then developed the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), based on the French N4 and the German Konvoi types, to meet the European Utility Requirements and also the US EPRI Utility Requirements. This was confirmed in 1995 as the new standard design for France and it received French design approval in 2004.

There have been two significant fast breeder reactors in France. Near Marcoule is the 233 MWe Phenix reactor, which started operation in 1974 and was jointly owned by CEA and EdF. It was shut down for modification 1998-2003, returned at 140 MWe for six years, and ceased power generation in March 2009, though it continued in test operation and to maintain research programs by CEA until October 2009.

A second unit was Super-Phenix of 1200 MWe, which started up in 1996 but was closed down for political reasons at the end of 1998 and is now being decommissioned. The operation of Phenix is fundamental to France's research on waste disposal, particularly transmutation of actinides. See further information in R&D section below.

All but four of EdF's nuclear power plants (14 reactors) are inland, and require fresh water for cooling. Eleven of the 15 inland plants (32 reactors) have cooling towers, using evaporative cooling, the others use simply river or lake water directly. With regulatory constraints on the temperature increase in receiving waters, this means that in very hot summers generation output may be limited.

Following the Fukushima accident in 2011 the IRSN undertook a 6-month review of reactor safety. Its report, released in conjunction with ASN, proposed a new set of 'hard core' safety requirements to ensure the protection of vital safety-critical structures and equipment to ensure that vital functions can be maintained in the face of events beyond the design basis of the plant, such as earthquakes, fires, or the prolonged loss of power or emergency cooling.

Licence renewal and uprates

The 900 MWe reactors all had their lifetimes extended by ten years in 2002, after their second 10-yearly review. Most started up late 1970s to early 1980s, and they are reviewed together in a process that takes four months at each unit. A review of the 1300 MWe class followed and in October 2006 the regulatory authority cleared all 20 units for an extra ten years' operation conditional upon minor modifications at their 20-year outages over 2005-14. The third 10-year inspections of the 900 MWe series began in 2009 and run to 2020. The 3rd ten-year inspections of the 1300 MWe series run from 2015 to 2024.

In July 2009 the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) approved EdF's safety case for 40-year operation of the 900 MWe units, based on generic assessment of the 34 reactors. Each individual unit will now be subject to inspection during their 30-year outage, starting with Tricastin 1. In December 2010 ASN extended its licence by ten years, to 2020.

In July 2011 ASN approved a ten-year licence extension for Fessenheim 1, the oldest operating reactor (1977 start-up), subject to making its 1.5 m thick basemat more robust and resistant to possible corium assault (increasing its thickness by 0.5 m and increasing the surface area for corium spreading), as well provision for last-resort fuel decay heat removal in the event of losing the external heat exchanger. EdF considered the cost-benefit situation following the outcome of EU stress tests and completed the work in mid-2013. Much the same work on unit 2 will follow, and EdF committed to this in mid 2013. Bugey 2 was approved by ASN for ten-year life extension in July 2012, and Bugey 4 the same in July 2013, subject to similar conditions for minor upgrading. With Tricastin 1, this brings to five the total approved for 40-year operating life.

In July 2010 EdF said that it was assessing the prospect of 60-year lifetimes for all its existing reactors. This would involve replacement of all steam generators (3 in each 900 MWe reactor, 4 in each 1300 MWe unit) and other refurbishment, costing EUR 400-600 million per unit to take them beyond 40 years. EdF has replaced the steam generators at 22 of its 900 MWe units and is currently replacing those at two units per year, and plans to increase this to three units in 2016. In 2011 it ordered 44 steam generators for 11 of the 1300 MWe units, for EUR 1.5 billion, and will proceed also with the other nine.

In 2012 the government announced that both Fessenhiem reactors would close by 2017, for political reasons and regardless of safety evaluations. This may require compensation payments to minority owners: ENBW has 17.5% and Alpiq, Axpo and BKW in Switzerland together hold 15%.

In February 2014 EdF gave parliament a breakdown of its EUR 55 billion reactor life extension program, mostly to be completed by 2025. This includes spending EUR 15 billion replacing heavy components within its fleet of 58 nuclear units, EUR 10 billion on post-Fukushima modifications and EUR 10 billion to boost safety against external events. It pointed out that there are only two parts of a nuclear reactor that cannot be replaced, the reactor pressure vessel and the reactor containment building. The rest of the components have a normal lifespan of 25-35 years and require renovation or replacement. ASN said it would evaluate life extensions on the basis of Gen III criteria regardless of when particular reactors were built.

Uprates: In the light of operating experience, EdF uprated its four Chooz and Civaux N4 reactors from 1455 to 1500 MWe each in 2003. Over 2008-10 EdF plans to uprate five of its 900 MWe reactors by 3%. Then in 2007 EdF announced that the twenty 1300 MWe reactors would be uprated some 7% from 2015, within existing licence limits, and adding about 15 TWh/yr to output.

Building new nuclear capacity

In mid-2004 the board of EdF decided in principle to build the first demonstration unit of an expected series of Areva EPRs. This decision was confirmed by the EdF board in May 2006, after public debate, when it approved construction of a new 1650 MWe class EPR unit at Flamanville, Normandy, alongside two existing 1300 MWe units. The decision was seen as "an essential step in renewing EDF's nuclear generation mix".

The overnight capital cost or construction cost was expected to be €3.3 billion in 2005 Euros (€3.55 billion in 2008 Euros), and power from it EUR 4.6 c/kWh – about the same as from new combined cycle gas turbine at 2005 gas prices and with no carbon emission charge. Series production costs were projected at about 20% less. EDF then submitted a construction licence application. The Flamanville 3 unit is to be 4500 MWt, 1750 MWe gross (at sea temperature 14.7°C) and 1630 MWe net.

Under a 2005 agreement with EdF, the Italian utility ENEL was to have a 12.5% share in the Flamanville-3 plant, taking rights to 200 MWe of its capacity and being involved in design, construction and operation of it. However, early in 2007 EdF backed away from this and said it would build the plant on its own and take all of the output. Nevertheless, in November 2007 an agreement was signed confirming the 12.5% ENEL investment in Flamanville - expected to cost EUR 450 million – plus the same share of another five such plants. The agreement also gave EdF an option to participate in construction and operation of future ENEL nuclear power plants in Italy or elsewhere in Europe and the Mediterranean. But in December 2012 ENEL pulled out of the project and partnership with EdF and will be reimbursed EUR 613 million that it has contributed, including accrued interest. ENEL said it would pursue it commercial business in France by other means.

Site works at Flamanville on the Normandy coast were complete and the first concrete was poured in December 2007, with construction to take 54 months and commercial operation expected in May 2012. In January 2007 EdF ordered the main nuclear part of the reactor from Areva. The turbine-generator section was ordered in 2006 from Alstom – a 1750 MWe Arabelle unit. This meant that 85% of the plant's projected cost was largely locked in. The reactor vessel nozzle support ring was forged by JSW in 2006. The reactor pressure vessel was manufactured at Areva's St Marcel factory, with delivery to the site in October 2013 and installation in January 2014. Forging of steam generator shells was at Areva's Le Creusot factory from 2007, and installation will be in 2014.

At the end of 2008 the overnight cost estimate (without financing costs) was updated by 21% to €4 billion in 2008 Euros (€2434/kW), and electricity cost to be 5.4 cents/kWh (compared with 6.8 c/kWh for CCGT and 7.0 c/kWh for coal, "with lowest assumptions" for CO2 cost). These costs were confirmed in mid 2009, when EdF had spent nearly EUR 2 billion. In July 2010 EdF revised the overnight cost to about EUR 5 billion and the grid connection to early 2014 - two years behind schedule. In July 2011 EdF again revised the completion time to 2016 due to re-evaluation of civil engineering works and to take into account interruptions during the first half of the year. There had been problems coordinating the nine main subcontractors, and EdF hoped the new schedule would progress "the construction of the Flamanville EPR ...... under optimized conditions." The cost was now put at EUR 6 billion. In December 2012 EdF raised the cost estimate to EUR 8.5 billion including financing, and said that completion was still expected in 2016. It said that 93% of the civil engineering was complete and 36% of the electro-mechanical equipment was installed. As the reactor pressure vessel was installed in January 2014 Areva confirmed that first power was expected in 2016, four years behind original schedule at construction commencement in December 2007.

In August 2005 EdF announced that it planned to replace its 58 reactors with EPR units from 2020, at the rate of about one 1650 MWe unit per year. It would require 40 of these to reach present capacity. This will be confirmed about 2015 on the basis of experience with the initial EPR unit at Flamanville – use of other designs such as Westinghouse's AP1000 or GE's ESBWR is possible. EdF's development strategy selected the nuclear replacement option on the basis of nuclear's "economic performance, for the stability of its costs and out of respect for environmental constraints."

In January 2009 President Sarkozy announced that EdF would build a second 1650 MWe EPR, at Penly, near Dieppe, in Normandy. Like Flamanville, it has two 1300 MWe units now operating, and room for two more. GdF-Suez originally planned to hold a 25% stake in it, Total will hold 8.3%, and ENEL is expected to take up 8% or its full 12.5% entitlement. Germany's E.On. is considering taking an 8% stake. EdF may sell down its share to 50%. (Areva, GdF-Suez and Total together bid to build a pair of EPRs in Abu Dhabi.) The French government owns 85% of EdF, 35.7% of GdF Suez and (directly) 88% of Areva, who would build the unit. A public debate on the project concluded in 2010, but nuclear safety authority ASN did not accept EdF's application to build the unit, sending it back for further work before the application is submitted to a local public inquiry. However, EdF then halted plans for the Penly 3 unit and said that it did not intend to build more nuclear capacity in France for operation before 2025.

A third new reactor, with majority GdF Suez ownership and operated by it, was proposed to follow – in line with the company's announced intentions. A GdF Suez subsidiary, Electrabel, operates seven reactors in Belgium and has equity in two French nuclear plants.

After deciding not to participate in the Penly 2 project, in February 2010 GdF Suez sought approval to build an 1100 MWe Areva-MHI Atmea-1 reactor at Tricastin or Marcoule in the Rhone valley to operate from about 2020. This sparked union opposition due to the private ownership. It would be a reference plant for the Areva-Mitsubishi design, providing a base for export sales.

Power reactors under construction and planned

  Type MWe gross Construction start Grid connection Commercial operation

Flamanville 3

EPR

1750

12/07

2016

2016

Penly 3

EPR

1750

cancelled


 

Further nuclear power development

In January 2006 the President announced that the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA)* was to embark upon designing a prototype Generation IV reactor to be operating in 2020, bringing forward the timeline for this by some five years. France has been pursuing three Gen IV technologies: gas-cooled fast reactor, sodium-cooled fast reactor, and very high temperature reactor (gas-cooled). While Areva has been working on the last two types, the main interest in the very high temperature reactors has been in the USA, as well as South Africa and China. CEA interest in the fast reactors is on the basis that they will produce less waste and will better exploit uranium resources, including the 220,000 tonnes of depleted uranium and some reprocessed uranium stockpiled in France.

* Now the Commission of Atomic and Alternative Energy

If the CEA embarks on the sodium-cooled design, there is plenty of experience to draw on – Phenix and Superphenix – and they could go straight to a demonstration plant – the main innovations would be dispensing with the breeding blanket around the core and substituting gas for water as the intermediate coolant. A gas-cooled fast reactor would be entirely new and would require a small prototype as first step – the form of its fuel would need to be unique. Neither would operate at a high enough temperature for hydrogen production, but still CEA would participate in very high temperature R&D with the USA and east Asia.

In December 2006 the government's Atomic Energy Committee decided to proceed with a Generation IV sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype whose design features are to be decided by 2012 and the start up aimed for 2020. A new generation of sodium-cooled fast reactor with innovations intended to improve the competitiveness and the safety of this reactor type is the reference approach for this prototype. A gas-cooled fast reactor design is to be developed in parallel as an alternative option. The prototype will also have the mission of demonstrating advanced recycling modes intended to improve the ultimate high-level and long-lived waste to be disposed of. The objective is to have one type of competitive fast reactor technology ready for industrial deployment in France and for export after 2035-2040. The prototype, possibly built near Phenix at Marcoule, will be 250 to 800 MWe and is expected to cost about EUR 1.5 to 2 billion and come on line in 2020. The project will be led by the CEA.

Load-following with PWR nuclear plants

Normally base-load generating plants, with high capital cost and low operating cost, are run continuously, since this is the most economic mode. But also it is technically the simplest way, since nuclear and coal-fired plants cannot readily alter power output, compared with gas or hydro plants. The high reliance on nuclear power in France thus poses some technical challenges, since the reactors collectively need to be used in load-following mode. (Since electricity cannot be stored, generation output must exactly equal to consumption at all times. Any change in demand or generation of electricity at a given point on the transmission network has an instant impact on the entire system. In France, because electricity is cheap relative to other sources (based on imported fossil fuel), electric heating is widespread and a 1°C temperature change in winter means that demand on the grid changes by about 2300 MWe. This means the system must constantly adapt to satisfy the balance between supply and demand.)

RTE, a subsidiary of EdF, is responsible for operating, maintaining and developing the French electricity transmission network. France has the biggest grid network in Europe, made up of some 100,000 km of high and extra high voltage lines, and 44 cross-border lines, including a DC link to UK. Electricity is transmitted regionally at 400 and 225 kilovolts. Frequency and voltage are controlled from the national control centre, but dispatching of capacity is done regionally. Due to its central geographical position, RTE is a crucial entity in the European electricity market and a critical operator in maintaining its reliability.

All France's nuclear capacity is from PWR units. There are two ways of varying the power output from a PWR: control rods, and boron addition to the primary cooling water. Using normal control rods to reduce power means that there is a portion of the core where neutrons are being absorbed rather than creating fission, and if this is maintained it creates an imbalance in the fuel, with the lower part of the fuel assemblies being more reactive that the upper parts. Adding boron to the water diminishes the reactivity uniformly, but to reverse the effect the water has to be treated to remove the boron, which is slow and costly, and it creates a radioactive waste.

So to minimise these impacts for the last 25 years EdF has used in each PWR reactor some less absorptive "grey" control rods which weigh less from a neutronic point of view than ordinary control rods and they allow sustained variation in power output. This means that RTE can depend on flexible load following from the nuclear fleet to contribute to regulation in these three respects:

  1. Primary power regulation for system stability (when frequency varies, power must be automatically adjusted by the turbine).
  2. Secondary power regulation related to trading contracts.
  3. Adjusting power in response to demand (decrease from 100% during the day, down to 50% or less during the night, etc.)

PWR plants are very flexible at the beginning of their cycle, with fresh fuel and high reserve reactivity. But when the fuel cycle is around 65% through these reactors are less flexible, and they take a rapidly diminishing part in the third, load-following, aspect above. When they are 90% through the fuel cycle, they only take part in frequency regulation, and essentially no power variation is allowed (unless necessary for safety). So at the very end of the cycle, they are run at steady power output and do not regulate or load-follow until the next refueling outage. RTE has continuous oversight of all French plants and determines which plants adjust output in relation to the three considerations above, and by how much.

RTE's real-time picture of the whole French system operating in response to load and against predicted demand shows the total of all inputs. This includes the hydro contribution at peak times, but it is apparent that in a coordinated system the nuclear fleet is capable of a degree of load following, even though the capability of individual units to follow load may be limited.

Plants being built today, eg according to European Utilities' Requirements (EUR), have load-following capacity fully built in.

Fuel cycle – front end

France uses some 12,400 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate (10,500 tonnes of U) per year for its electricity generation. Much of this comes from Areva in Canada (4500 tU/yr) and Niger (3200 tU/yr) together with other imports, principally from Australia, Kazakhstan and Russia, mostly under long-term contracts. Areva perceives the front end of the French fuel cycle as strategic, and invests accordingly.

Beyond this, it is self-sufficient and has conversion, enrichment, uranium fuel fabrication and MOX fuel fabrication plants operational (together with reprocessing and a waste management program). Most fuel cycle activities are carried out by Areva.

Conversion:

Uranium concentrates have been converted to hexafluoride at the 14,000 t/yr Comurhex Malvesi and Pierrelatte plants in the Rhone Valley, which commenced operation in 1959 and 1961. 

In May 2007 Areva NC announced plans for a new conversion project – Comurhex II – expanding and modernising the facilities at Malvesi and Pierrelatte near Tricastin to strengthen its global position in the front end of the fuel cycle. The EUR 610 million project increased capacity to 15,000 tU/yr from 2014, with scope (but no plans) for increase to 21,000 tU/yr. At Malvesi near Moussan uranium oxide concentrate is converted to UF4 powder, and this is sent on to Pierrelatte to produce UF6. About 40% of production is on toll basis or exported.

In January 2009 EdF awarded a long-term conversion contract to Areva. From 2012 this will be filled from the Comurhex II plant.

Comurhex also converts reprocessed uranium.

Areva has undertaken deconversion of enrichment tails at Pierrelatte since the 1980s. Its 20,000 t/yr W2 plant produces aqueous HF which is recycled, and the depleted uranium is stored long-term as chemically stable U3O8.

Enrichment:

For 33 years this was at Eurodif's 1978 Georges Besse I plant at Tricastin nearby Perrelatte, with 10.8 million SWU capacity (enough to supply some 81,000 MWe of generating capacity – about one-third more than France's total). Eurodif was by far the largest single electricity consumer in France, using 15 TWh/yr for much of its life. It ran at about half capacity (using about 800 MWe) until mid-2012 and then closed down, as replacement capacity at Georges Besse II reached 1.5 million SWU/yr. The plant delivered more than 200 million SWU, or 35,000 t of enriched product in 33 years. Areva owns 59.66% of Eurodif.

In 2003 Areva agreed to buy a 50% stake in Urenco's Enrichment Technology Company (ETC), which comprises all its centrifuge R&D, design and manufacturing activities. The deal will enable Areva to use Urenco/ETC technology to replace its inefficient Eurodif gas diffusion enrichment plant at Tricastin. The final agreement after approval by the four governments involved was signed in mid 2006.

The new Georges Besse II enrichment plant at Tricastin was officially opened in December 2010 and commenced commercial operation in April 2011. The EUR 3 billion two-unit plant, with nominal annual capacity of 7.5 million SWU (with potential for increase to 11 million SWU), was built and is operated by Areva NC subsidiary Societe d'Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET). The south plant started construction in 2007 and is expected to reach full capacity of 4.3 million SWU/yr in 2015. Construction of the north plant began in 2009 with first production in March 2013, it is to be fully operational in 2016 with 3.2 million SWU/yr capacity. Most production from these was contracted as of 2011. At the end of 2013, 5.5 million SWU/yr was online, and Areva expects the nominal capacity of 7.5 million SWU to be reached in 2016.

Minority stakes in SET are being offered to customers, and Suez took up 5% in 2008. In March 2009 two Japanese companies, Kansai and Sojitz Corp, jointly took up 2.5%, in June 2009 Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power took a further 2.5%, and in November 2010 Kyushu Electric Power and Tohoku Electric Power each took 1%. The 4.5% Japanese holdings are grouped as Japan France Enrichment Investing Co. (JFEI). EdF as principal customer opted for a long-term contract instead, and in February 2009 it signed a EUR 5 billion long-term enrichment contract with Areva. It runs over 17 years to 2025, corresponding with the amortisation of the new plant. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) in mid 2007 signed a long-term enrichment supply contract of over EUR 1 billion – described at that time as Areva's largest enrichment contract outside France.

Enrichment will be up to 6% U-235, and reprocessed uranium will only be handled in the second, north unit. There is potential to expand capacity to 11 million SWU/yr, probably with a third unit.

When fully operational in 2018 the whole SET plant will free up some 3000 MWe of Tricastin nuclear power plant's capacity for the French grid – over 20 billion kWh/yr (@ 4 c/kWh this is EUR 800 million/yr). The new enrichment plant investment is equivalent to buying new power capacity @ EUR 1000/kW. The GB II plant will require only about 75 MWe (80 kWh/SWU, compared with about 2600 kWh/SWU for GB I).

About 7300 tonnes of depleted uranium tails is produced annually, most of which is stored for use in Generation IV fast reactors. Only 100-150 tonnes per year is used in MOX. By 2040 this resources is expected to total some 450,000 tonnes of DU.

Enrichment of depleted uranium tails has been undertaken in Russia, at Novouralsk and Zelenogorsk. Some 33,000 tonnes of French DU from Areva and EdF has been sent to Russia in 128 shipments over 2006-09, and about 3090 t of enriched 'natural' uranium (about 0.7% U-235) has been returned as of May 2010: 2400 t to Eurodif, 380 t to Areva Pierrelatte, and 310 t to Areva FBFC Romans. The contracts for this work end in 2010, and the last shipment was in July 2010 with the returned material to be shipped by year end. Tails from re-enrichment remain in Russia as the property of the enrichers.

Fuel fabrication is at several Areva plants in France and Belgium. Significant upgrading of these plants forms part of Areva's strategy for strengthening its front end facilities. MOX fuel fabrication is described below.

Fuel cycle – back end

France chose the closed fuel cycle at the very beginning of its nuclear program, involving reprocessing used fuel so as to recover uranium and plutonium for re-use and to reduce the volume of high-level wastes for disposal. Recycling allows 30% more energy to be extracted from the original uranium and leads to a great reduction in the amount of wastes to be disposed of. Overall the closed fuel cycle cost is assessed as comparable with that for direct disposal of used fuel, and preserves a resource which may become more valuable in the future. Back end services are carried out by Areva. Used fuel storage in pools at reactor sites is relatively brief. Late in 2011, 70% of EdF's used fuel was in used fuel pools, mostly at La Hague, 19% was in dry casks and 11% had been reprocessed. Total in storage was 14,200 tonnes.

Used fuel from the French reactors and from otehr countries is sent to Areva's La Hague plant in Normandy for reprocessing. This has the capacity to reprocess up to 1700 tonnes per year of used fuel in the UP2 and UP3 facilities, and had reprocessed 28,600 tonnes to the end of 2012. The treatment extracts 99.9% of the plutonium and uranium for recycling, leaving 3% of the used fuel material as high-level wastes which are vitrified and stored there for later disposal. Typical input today is 3.7% enriched used fuel from PWR and BWR reactors with burn-up to 45 GWd/t, after cooling for four years. In 2009 Areva reprocessed 929 tonnes, most from EdF, but 79 t from SOGIN in Italy. By 2015 it aims for throughput of 1500 t/yr.

EdF was sending some 850 tonnes for reprocessing out of about 1200 tonnes of used fuel discharged per year, though from 2010 it sent 1050 t/yr. The rest is preserved for later reprocessing to provide the plutonium required for the start-up of Generation IV reactors. Reprocessing is undertaken a few years after discharge, following some cooling. Some 10.5 tonnes of plutonium and 1000 tonnes of reprocessed uranium (RepU) are recovered each year from the 1050 tonnes treated each year. The plutonium is immediately shipped to the 195 t/yr Melox plant near Marcoule for prompt fabrication into about 100 tonnes of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, which is used in 20 of EdF's 900 MWe reactors. Four more are being licensed to use MOX fuel.

At the end of 2010, there were 80 tonnes of civilian plutonium in storage in France, 60 t of it at La Hague. Of the total, 56 t belonged to French entities, and 27 t to EdF. ANDRA said that quantity corresponds to almost three years’ production of MOX fuel at Areva’s 195 t/yr Melox facility.

Used MOX fuel and used RepU fuel is stored pending reprocessing and use of the plutonium in Generation IV fast reactors. These discharges earlier amounted to about 140 tonnes per year, but rose to 200 tonnes from 2010. Used MOX fuel is not reprocessed at present.

EdF's recycled uranium (RepU) is converted in Comurhex plants at Pierrelatte, either to U3O8 for interim storage, or to UF6 for re-enrichment in centrifuge facilities there or at Seversk in Russia*. About 500 tU per year of French RepU as UF6 has been sent to JSC Siberian Chemical Combine at Seversk for re-enrichment. The enriched RepU UF6 from Seversk is then turned into UO2 fuel in Areva's FBFC Romans plant (capacity 150 t/yr). EdF has used it in the Cruas 900 MWe power reactors since the mid 1980s. The main RepU inventory – 24,000 tonnes at four sites at the end of 2010 but only 16,900 tonnes at the end of 2012 – constitutes a strategic resource, and EdF intends to increase its utilization significantly. The enrichment tails remain at Seversk, as the property of the enricher.

* RepU conversion and enrichment require dedicated facilities due to its specific isotopic composition (presence of even isotopes - notably U-232 and U-236 – the former gives rise to gamma radiation, the latter means higher enrichment is required). It is the reason why the cost of these operations may be higher than for natural uranium. However, taking into account the credit from recycled materials (natural uranium savings), commercial grade RepU fuel is competitive and its cost is more predictable than that of fresh uranium fuel, due to uncertainty about future uranium concentrate prices.

Considering both plutonium and uranium, EdF estimates that about 20% of its electricity is produced from recycled materials. Areva's estimate is 17%, from both MOX and RepU.

Areva has the capacity to produce and market 150 t/year of MOX fuel at its Melox plant for French and foreign customers (though it is licensed for 195 t/yr). In Europe 35 reactors have been loaded with MOX fuel. Contracts for MOX fuel supply were signed in 2006 with Japanese utilities. All these fuel cycle facilities comprise a significant export industry and have been France’s major export to Japan. At the end of 2008 Areva was reported to have about 30 t/yr in export contracts for MOX fuel, with demand very strong. However, EdF has priority. To the end of 2012 Melox had produced about 2000 tonnes of MOX fuel.

To the end of 2009 about 27,000 tonnes of LWR fuel from France and other countries had been reprocessed at La Hague. In addition about 5000 tonnes of gas-cooled reactor natural uranium fuel was earlier reprocessed there and over 18,000 tonnes at the UP1 plant for such fuel at Marcoule, which closed in 1997.

At the end of 2008 Areva and EdF announced a renewed agreement to reprocess and recycle EdF's used fuel to 2040, thereby securing the future of both La Hague and Melox plants. The agreement supports Areva's aim to have La Hague reprocessing operating at 1500 t/yr by 2015, instead of two thirds of that in 2008. It also means that EdF increases the amount of its used fuel sent for reprocessing to 1050 t/yr from 2010, and Melox produces 120 t/yr MOX fuel for EdF then, up from 100 tonnes in 2009. It also means that EdF will recycle used MOX fuel.

Under current legislation, EdF is required to have made provision for its decommissioning and final waste management liabilities by 2011, but under a new bill that deadline would be deferred until 2016. At the end of 2009, EdF was reported to have EUR 11.4 billion in its dedicated back-end fund, compared with an estimated liability of EUR 16.9 billion.

France's back-end strategy and industrial developments are to evolve progressively in line with future needs and technological developments. The existing plants at La Hague (commissioned around 1990) have been designed to operate for at least forty years, so with operational and technical improvements taking place on a continuous basis they are expected to be operating until around 2040. This will be when Generation IV plants (reactors and advanced treatment facilities) should come on line. In this respect, three main R&D areas for the next decade include:

  • The COEX process based on co-extraction and co-precipitation of uranium and plutonium together as well as a pure uranium stream (eliminating any separation of plutonium on its own). This is designed for Generation III recycling plants and is close to near-term industrial deployment.
  • Selective separation of long-lived radionuclides (with a focus on Am and Cm separation) from short-lived fission products based on the optimization of DIAMEX-SANEX processes for their recycling in Generation IV fast neutron reactors with uranium as blanket fuel. This option can also be implemented with a combination of COEX and DIAMEX-SANEX processes.
  • Group extraction of actinides (GANEX process) as a long term R&D goal for a homogeneous recycling of actinides (ie U-Pu plus minor actinides together) in Generation IV fast neutron reactors as driver fuel.

All three processes are to be assessed as they develop, and one or more will be selected for industrial-scale development with the construction of pilot plants. In the longer term the goal is to have integral recycling of uranium, plutonium and minor actinides. In practical terms, a technology – hopefully GANEX or similar – will need to be validated for industrial deployment of Gen IV fast reactors about 2040, at which stage the present La Hague plant will be due for replacement.

See also R&D section below.

Wastes

Waste disposal is being pursued under France's 1991 Waste Management Act (updated 2006) which established the Agence Nationale pour la gestion des Déchets Radioactifs – ANDRA – as the National Radioactive Waste Management Agency and which set the direction of research - mainly undertaken at the Bure underground rock laboratory in eastern France, situated in clays. Another laboratory is researching granites. Research is also being undertaken on partitioning and transmutation, and long-term surface storage of wastes following conditioning. Wastes disposed of are to be retrievable. ANDRA publishes a waste inventory every two years and reports to government so that parliament can decide on waste policy.

The 2006 revision of the Waste Management Act extended the mandate of the Commission Nationale d'Evaluation – CNE – the National Scientific Assessment Committee, to all wastes. Its role was assessing R&D in three areas concerned with high-level and intermediate-level wastes: deep-geologic disposal, separation and transmutation, and interim storage of nuclear wastes, and this was extended to nuclear materials and all types of waste when CNE2 succeeded the initial CNE in 2006. In April 2007 the government appointed 12 new members to the CNE2 to report on progress in France's waste management R&D across EdF, CEA, ANDRA and the National Centre for Scientific Research. It reports annually.

After strong support in the National Assembly and Senate, the Nuclear Materials and Waste Management Program Act was passed in June 2006 to apply for 15 years. This formally declares deep geological disposal as the reference solution for high-level and long-lived radioactive wastes, and sets 2015 as the target date for licensing a repository and 2025 for opening it. It also affirms the principle of reprocessing used fuel and using recycled plutonium and uranium "in order to reduce the quantity and toxicity" of final wastes, and calls for construction of a prototype fourth-generation reactor by 2020 to test transmutation of long-lived actinides. The cost of the repository (in 2002 EUR) is expected to be around EUR 15 billion: 40% construction, 40% operation for 100 years, and 20% ancillary (taxes and insurance). However, with design changes and cost escalation, this is reported to have doubled. Funds for waste management and decommissioning remain segregated but with the producers rather than in an external fund.

The 2006 Waste Management Act defines three main principles concerning radioactive waste and substances: reduction of the quantity and toxicity, interim storage of radioactive substances and ultimate waste, and deep geological disposal. A central point is the creation of a national management plan defining the solutions, the goals to be achieved and the research actions to be launched to reach these goals. This plan is updated every three year and published according to the law on nuclear transparency and security.

The 2006 Act is largely in line with recommendations to government from the CNE following 15 years of research. Their report identified the clay formation at Bure as the best site, but was sceptical of partitioning and transmutation for high-level wastes, and said that used MOX fuel should be stored indefinitely as a plutonium resource for future fast neutron reactors, rather than being recycled now or treated as waste. In a 2010 report CNE2 said that transmutation of minor actinides in fast reactors would add about 10% to power cost, and transmutation of all actinides in an accelerator-driven system (ADS) would add about 20%. Wastes from transmutation reactors will be interim storage for at least 70 years. In its 2012 report CNE2 noted the great value of plutonium in fast reactors and their role in transmuting long-lived actinides, hence “an experimental reactor and its associated cycle – fuel fabrication and reprocessing – are indispensable” to test “the industrial and economic viability” of that concept while maintaining France’s leadership in civil nuclear energy. In particular the Astrid project would allow “preservation of a range of energy options and ensure France’s energy independence for several centuries.” (see R&D section below)

Earlier, an international review team reported very positively on the plan by ANDRA for a deep geological repository complex in clay at Bure. In 1999 ANDRA was authorised to build an underground research laboratory at Bure to prepare for disposal of vitrified high-level wastes (HLW) and long-lived intermediate-level wastes.

ANDRA is designing its Bure repository - the Industrial Centre for Geological Disposal (Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique — CIGEO) — to operate at up to 90°C, which it expects to be reached about 20 years after emplacement. In October 2012 CNE2 endorsed the plans for the CIGEO deep repository at Bure. Public consultation over May to December 2013 showed that the public was “not opposed in principle” to the project, but wanted a pilot phase demonstration and provision for reversibility. ANDRA has commissioned detailed studies on waste handling procedures, and it expects to submit to government its master plan for operation and disposal for CIGEO in 2015. A construction permit application is expected in 2017, with construction from 2020. The pilot phase of CIGEO is expected to operate from 2025. It will be designed to take 10,000 cubic metres of HLW, mostly vitrified, and 70,000 m3 of ILW. Two further repositories are envisaged by ANDRA and CEA.

LLW & ILW: 

ANDRA operates the Centre de l’Aube disposal facility for low-level (LLW) and short-lived intermediate-level wastes near Soulaines in the Aube district, with capacity of one million cubic metres, and a quarter of this so far filled. It opened in 1992 and benefited from the experience gained at Centre da la Manche. ANDRA also operates the Morvilliers facility (CSTFA) nearby licensed to hold 650,000 cubic metres of very low-level wastes, mostly from plant dismantling, in the Aube district around Troyes east of Paris. ANDRA’s Centre de la Manche facility next to La Hague received 527,000 m3 of low- and short-lived intermediate-level wastes from 1969 to 1994, and is now capped with a multi-layer grassed cover.

In June 2008, ANDRA officially invited 3,115 communities with favorable geology to consider hosting a facility for disposal of long-lived LLW (FA-VL, containing radionuclides with half lives over 30 years). This is 70,000 m3 (18,000 tonnes) of graphite from early gas-cooled reactors and 47,000 m3 of radium-bearing materials from manufacture of catalytic converters and electronic components, as well as wastes from mineral and metal processing that cannot be placed in Andra's low-level waste disposal center in Soulaines. In response, 40 communities put themselves forward for consideration. Preliminary studies completed late in 2008 by ANDRA revealed that two – Auxon and Pars-lès-Chavanges in the Aube district – had suitable rock formations and environments for the disposal of the wastes, but after intense lobbying by anti-nuclear groups both withdrew. Investigations are proceeding. A repository is likely to be in clay, about 15 metres below the land surface. Meanwhile ANDRA is building a store for FA-VL wastes at its Morvilliers VLLW site.

In April 2007 the government appointed 12 new members to the CNE to report on progress in France's waste management R&D across EdF, CEA, ANDRA and the National Centre for Scientific Research.

Funding: EdF sets aside EUR 0.14 cents/kWh of nuclear electricity for waste management costs, and said that the 2004 Areva contract was economically justified even in the new competitive environment of EU electricity supply. Total provisions at end of 2004 amounted to €13.4 billion, €9.6 billion for reprocessing (including decommissioning of facilities) and €3.8 billion for disposal of high-level and long-lived wastes.

Wastes R&D: In August 2010 ANDRA announced that it expected €100 million for two waste projects:
- to establish a commercially viable system to recycle materials recovered during decommissioning of nuclear facilities. The materials – mainly steel and concrete – would be used exclusively in the nuclear industry. (French law prohibits using recycled materials from nuclear installations in non-nuclear applications, which discourages recycling of decommissioning waste and threatens to quickly fill Andra’s Morvilliers disposal facility – CSTFA).
- to develop techniques to condition chemically-active intermediate-level radwastes for final disposal. Those "mixed" wastes can be in liquid, gaseous, or organic form. The goal is to condition them in the most inert physical and chemical forms possible to meet safety requirements of a deep repository. Most such wastes are from outside the nuclear power industry, but industry generation of them is expected to increase. Industrial-scale solutions are likely to be costly, and ANDRA is therefore seeking international partners.

Decommissioning

Thirteen experimental and power reactors are being decommissioned in France, nine of them first-generation gas-cooled, graphite-moderated types, six being very similar to the UK Magnox type. There are well-developed plans for dismantling these (which have been shut down since 1990 or before). However, progress awaits the availability of sites for disposing of the intermediate-level wastes and the alpha-contaminated graphite from the early gas-cooled reactors. At least one of these, Marcoule G2, has been fully dismantled.

The other four include the 1200 MWe Super Phenix fast reactor, the veteran 233 MWe Phenix fast reactor, the 1966 prototype 305 MWe PWR at Chooz, and an experimental 70 MWe GCHWR at Brennilis. A licence was issued for dismantling Brennilis in 2006, and for Chooz A in 2007.

Decommissioned Power Reactors in France  

Reactor Type MWe operational
Chooz A PWR 300 1967-91
Brennilis GCHWR 70 1967-85
Marcoule G1 GCR 2 1956-68
Marcoule G2 GCR 40 1959-80
Marcoule G3 GCR 40 1960-84
Chinon A1 GCR 70 1963-73
Chinon A2 GCR 200 1965-85
Chinon A3 GCR 480 1966-90
Saint-Laurent A1 GCR 480 1969-90
Saint-Laurent A2 GCR 515 1971-92
Bugey 1 GCR 540 1972-94
Creys-Malville FNR 1240 1986-97
Phenix FNR 233 1973-2009

Materials arising from EdF's decommissioning include: 500 tonnes of long-liver intermediate-level wastes, 18,000 tonnes of graphite, 41,000 tones of short-lived intermediate-level wastes and 105,000 tonnes of very low level wastes.

The Eurodif gaseous diffusion enrichment plant at Tricastin is expected to generate 110,000 tonnes of steel and 20,000 tonnes of aluminium that could be recycled for use in ANDRA’s disposal centres or elsewhere in the industry.

Organisation and financing of final decommissioning of the UP1 reprocessing plant at Marcoule was settled in 2004, with the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) taking it over. The total cost is expected to be some EUR 5.6 billion. The plant was closed in 1997 after 39 years of operation, primarily for military purposes but also taking the spent fuel from EdF's early gas-cooled power reactors. It was operated under a partnership - Codem, with 45% share by each of CEA and EdF and 10% share by Cogema (now Areva NC). EdF and Areva will now pay CEA EUR 1.5 billion and be clear of further liability.

EdF puts aside EUR 0.14 cents/kWh for decommissioning and at the end of 2004 it carried provisions of EUR 9.9 billion for this. By 2010 it will have fully funded the eventual decommissioning of its nuclear power plants (from 2035). Early in 2006 it held EUR 25 billion segregated for this purpose, and is on track for EUR 35 billion in 2010. Areva has dedicated assets already provided at the level of its future liabilities.

In April 2008 ASN issued a draft policy on decommissioning which proposes that French nuclear installation licensees adopt "immediate dismantling strategies" rather than safe storage followed by much later dismantling. The policy foresees broad public information in connection with the decommissioning process.

In January 2012 France's Court of Audit released a report on the costs of nuclear power in the country. It included a section on decommissioning, and said that the future costs for decommissioning all of France's nuclear facilities (including reactors, research facilities and fuel cycle plants) and disposing of radioactive wastes were estimated to be €79.4 billion. The cost of demolishing facilities came to €31.9 billion, including €18.4 billion for dismantling EDF's 58 operating reactors. The costs of managing used fuel were put at €14.8 billion ($19.3 billion), while waste disposal will cost €28.4 billion. However, the court noted that these future costs estimates are tentative because of the lack of firm decommissioning costs and the lack of final disposal plans. A massive increase in future costs would have a "significant but limited" impact on the annual cost of electricity production, it said.

The Eurodif enrichment plant, closed down in mid June 2012, will be decommissioned from 2015, after residual uranium is recovered from it. Some 130,000 tonnes of steel will be recycled, subject to regulatory approval from 2017. The decommissioning cost is put at EUR 800 million.

Regulation & Safety

The General Directorate for Nuclear Safety and Radiological Protection (DGSNR) was set up in 2002 by merging the Directorate for Nuclear Installation Safety (DSIN) with the Office for Protection against Ionising Radiation (OPRI) to integrate the regulatory functions and to "draft and implement government policy."

In 2006 the new Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorite de Surete Nucleaire – ASN), an independent body with five commissioners – became the regulatory authority responsible for nuclear safety and radiological protection, taking over these functions from the DGSNR, and reporting to the Ministers of Environment, Industry & Health. However, its major licensing decisions will still need government approval.

Research is undertaken by the IRSN – the Institute for Radiological Protection & Nuclear Safety – also set up in 2002 from two older bodies. IRSN is the main technical support body for ASN and also advises DGSNR.

There have been two INES Level 4 accidents at French nuclear plants, both involving the St Laurent A gas-cooled graphite reactors. In October 1969, soon after commissioning, about 50 kg of fuel melted in unit 1, and in March 1980 some annealing occurred in the graphite of unit 2, causing a brief heat excursion. On each occasion the reactor was repaired, and the two were eventually taken out of service in 1990 and 1992.

The French Nuclear Energy Society (SFEN) is a professional association.

Research and Development, International

The Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique – CEA) was set up in 1945 and is the public R&D corporation responsible for all aspects of nuclear policy, including R&D. In 2009 it was re-named Commission of Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy (CEA).

The CEA has 14 research reactors of various types and sizes in operation, all started up 1959 to 1980, the largest of these being 70 MWt. About 17 units dating from 1948 to 1982 are shut down or decommissioning. About half of these operating reactors use high-enriched fuel. Early in 2012 the USA shipped 186 kg of 93%-enriched HEU to Grenoble for the High Flux reactor (RHF) at the Institut Max von Laue-Paul Langevin (ILL). Previously this had used fuel sourced from Russia.

In 2004 the US energy secretary signed an agreement with the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) to gain access to the Phenix experimental fast neutron reactor for research on nuclear fuels. The US Department of Energy acknowledged that this fast neutron "capability no longer exists in the USA". The US research with Phenix irradiated fuel loaded with various actinides under constant conditions to help identify what kind of fuel might be best for possible future waste transmutation systems.

In mid 2006 the CEA signed a four-year EUR 3.8 billion R&D contract with the government, including development of two types of fast neutron reactors which are essentially Generation IV designs: an improved version of the sodium-cooled type (SFR) which already has 45 reactor-years operational experience in France, and an innovative gas-cooled type. Both would have fuel recycling, and by mid 2012 a decision was due to be taken on whether and how to transmute minor actinides. The CEA is seeking support under the EC's European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative and partnerships with Japan and China to develop SFR which will have great flexibility in breeding ratios. It noted that China and India are aiming for high breeding ratios to produce enough plutonium to crank up a major push into fast reactors.

The National Scientific Evaluation Committee (CNE) in mid 2009 said that the sodium-cooled model, Astrid (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration), should be a high priority in R&D on account of its actinide-burning potential. It is envisaged as a 600 MWe prototype of a commercial series of 1500 MWe SFR reactors which is likely to be deployed from about 2050. These will consume the plutonium in used MOX fuel and utilise the half million tonnes of DU that France will have by 2050. Astrid will have high fuel burnup, including minor actinides in the fuel elements, and while the MOX fuel will be broadly similar to that in PWRs, it will have 25-35% plutonium. It will use an intermediate sodium coolant loop, though whether the tertiary coolant is water/steam or gas is an open question. Four independent heat exchanger loops are likely, and it will be designed to reduce the probability and consequences of severe accidents to an extent that is not now done with FNRs. Astrid is called a "self-generating" fast reactor rather than a breeder in order to demonstrate low net plutonium production. Astrid is designed to meet the stringent criteria of the Generation IV International Forum in terms of safety, economy and proliferation resistance. CEA plans to build it at Marcoule.

In September 2010 the government confirmed its support, and EUR 651.6 million funding to 2017, for a 600 MWe Astrid prototype. In December 2012 it approved moving to the design phase, with final decision on construction to be made in 2019. The CEA is responsible for the project and will design the reactor core and fuel, but will collaborate with Areva, which will design the nuclear steam supply system, the nuclear auxiliaries and the instrumentation and control system. According to a February 2010 study by Deloitte for the EU's Strategic Nuclear Energy Technology Platform, a 600 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor would cost EUR 4.286 billion, with most of the financing coming from European institution loans, EU incentives and grants such as the EC's European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative, plus EUR 839 million from private investors.

The Astrid program includes development of the reactor itself and associated fuel cycle facilities: a dedicated MOX fuel fabrication line (AFC) is to be built about 2017 and a pilot reprocessing plant for used Astrid fuel (ATC) about 2023. Fuel rods containing actinides for transmutation are scheduled to be produced from 2023, though fuel containing minor actinides would not be loaded for transmutation in Astrid before 2025.

A major tripartite France-US-Japan accord on developing fast reactors was signed in October 2010, and some Astrid safety and performance features have been checked by the Idaho National Laboratory in USA.

CNE is a high-level scientists’ panel set up under the 1991 nuclear waste management act and charged with reviewing the research and development programs of the organizations responsible for nuclear energy, research and waste. The CNE expressed a clear preference for the concept of heterogeneous recycling of minor actinides, called CCAM. In that process, minor actinides are separated out from used fuel in an advanced-technology reprocessing plant and then incorporated into blanket assemblies which are placed around the core of a future fast reactor. Such blanket assemblies could contain 20% minor actinides or more, dispersed in a uranium oxide matrix. (In homogeneous recycling, the actinides are incorporated into the actual fuel.)

The second line of FNR development is the gas-cooled fast reactor. A 50-80 MWt experimental version – Allegro – is envisaged to be built 2014-2020. This will have either a ceramic core with 850°C outlet temperature, or a MOX core at 560°C. The secondary circuit will be pressurized water. The CEA has encouraged Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia to host the demonstration project. Further detail in Fast Neutron Reactors paper.

In June 2010 the CEA signed a major framework agreement with Rosatom covering "nuclear energy development strategy, nuclear fuel cycle, development of next-generation reactors, future gas coolant reactor systems, radiation safety and nuclear material safety, prevention and emergency measures." Much of the collaboration will be focused on reprocessing and wastes, also sodium-cooled fast reactors. Subsequently EdF signed a further cooperation agreement covering R&D, nuclear fuel, and nuclear power plants – both existing and under construction.

In December 2009, as part of a €35 billion program to improve France's competitiveness, the government awarded €1 billion to the CEA for Generation IV nuclear reactor and fuel cycle development. CEA has two priorities in this area:

  • Fast neutron reactors with sodium or gas cooling and a closed fuel cycle.
  • In collaboration with industry partners, a very high temperature 600 MWt reactor for electricity around 2025 and long-term for process heat applications such as hydrogen production.

Areva is developing Antares, the French version of General Atomics' GT-MHR – a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor with fuel in prismatic blocks. It says that it "is using the Antares program to make VHTR a pivotal aspect of its new product development."

In March 2007 the CEA started construction of a 100 MWt materials test reactor at Cadarache. The Jules Horowitz reactor is the first such unit to be built for several decades, and has been identified by the EU as a key infrastructure facility to support nuclear power development, as well as producing radioisotopes and irradiating silicon for high-performance electronic use. The €500 million cost is being financed by a consortium including CEA (50%), EdF (20%), Areva (10%) and EU research institutes (20%). Since the anticipated planned high-density U-Mo fuel will not be ready in time for 2013, it will start up on uranium silicide fuel enriched to 27%.

Also at Cadarache, Areva TA with DCNS is building a test version of its Réacteur d’essais à terre (RES), a land-based equivalent of its K15 naval reactor of 150 MW, running on low-enriched fuel. It has also designed the NP-300 reactor based on these, able to be built in sizes up to about 300 MWe.

In January 2011 DCNS announced the Flexblue submerged nuclear power plant concept, developed in collaboration with Areva, EdF and CEA. A 50 to 250 MWe nuclear power system (reactor, steam generators and turbine-generator) would be housed in a submerged 12,000 tonne cylinder about 100 metres long and 12-15 metres diameter, offshore at about 60-100 m depth. DCNS is a state-owned naval defence group formed in 2007 from the merger of DCN shipyard and Thales SA, and makes nuclear submarines and surface ships. It has built 18 nuclear reactors for the French navy and is building the RES test reactor and some components for EPR reactors. Subject to market evaluation, DCNS could start building a prototype Flexblue unit in 2013 in its shipyard at Cherbourg for launch and deployment in 2016. Offshore Flamanville has been mentioned as a potential site for a prototype unit. The concept eliminates the need for civil engineering, and refueling or major service can be undertaken by refloating it and returning to the shipyard.

In relation to introduction of Generation IV reactors by 2040, the CEA is investigating several fuel cycle strategies:

  • Optimising uranium and plutonium recycling from present and EPR reactors, then co-management of U&Pu and possibly Np in Gen IV fast reactors.
  • Recycling these with a low proportion of minor actinides (eg 3% MA) in driver fuels of Gen IV fast reactors.
  • Recycling (in about one third of France's reactors) with up to 30% of minor actinides in MOX blanket assemblies of Gen IV fast reactors.

CEA is part of a project under the Generation IV International Forum investigating the use of actinide-laden fuel assemblies in fast reactors – The Global Actinide Cycle International Demonstration (GACID). See Generation IV Nuclear Reactors paper.

Non-proliferation

France is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which it ratified in 1992 as a nuclear weapons state. Euratom safeguards apply in France and cover all civil nuclear facilities and materials.

In addition, IAEA applies its safeguards activities in accordance with the trilateral "voluntary offer" agreement between France, Euratom and the IAEA which entered into force in 1981.

France undertook nuclear weapons tests 1960-95 and ceased production of weapons-grade fissile materials in 1996. Since then it has ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Sources:
EdF, Nov 1996, Review of the French Nuclear Power Programme, EdF website
IAEA 2003, Country nuclear power profiles
Nuclear Review, July 2001
NuclearFuel & Nucleonics Week, August 2005
Areva – major review of paper in July 2007
RTE website
RTE Bilan Electrique 2011, Jan 2012