French bill on accelerating nuclear new build progresses to Senate

17 January 2023

The French Senate has begun discussing a bill aimed at accelerating procedures related to the construction of new nuclear facilities near existing nuclear sites and to the operation of existing facilities. In February last year, President Emmanuel Macron proposed the construction of six new EPR2 reactors, with an option for a further eight EPR2 reactors to follow.

The EPR2 reactor design (Image: EDF)

In early November 2022, the French Council of Ministers approved draft legislation intended to streamline the administrative and bureaucratic processes needed to build new nuclear power plants. According to the official report on the cabinet meeting, the aim of the bill is to respond to the "urgency of a climate crisis which threatens our ecosystems, our societies, the future of the young generations and, on the other hand, of a crisis of sovereignty and security of energy supply in 2022 following the Ukrainian conflict".

On 16 November, the Senate's Economic Affairs Committee appointed Daniel Gremillet rapporteur on the bill. The Committee examined the report by Gremillet on 11 January and established its text on the bill. Included in the Committee's amendments was the removal of the objective of reducing the nuclear share of France's electricity production to 50% by 2035, as well as the inclusion of small modular reactors (SMRs) in possible reactor types and hydrogen electrolysers.

The Senate began its deliberation of the bill on 17 January and is scheduled to vote on it on 24 January.

"The text makes it possible to bring together the legal, financial and organisational conditions necessary for the relaunch of a civil nuclear policy," the Senate said.

In addition to simplifying the administrative procedures for building authorisations for new reactors, the bill also "repeals the obstacles posed to the revival of nuclear power" and "proposes a new nuclear strategy". The legislation provides that the next five-year energy law, expected before 1 July, sets decarbonisation objectives and "provides for an assessment to be carried out between now and this five-year law on the needs generated by the 14 EPRs mentioned by the government and the nine others studied by RTE on the situation of the EDF group, public finances and the electricity market, needs in terms of professions and skills, safety and security and the fuel cycle".

The bill also establishes "a specific procedure for compatibility of urban planning documents", with a view to the construction of new reactors, and exempts them from certain planning permissions. It also grants nuclear operators the possibility of using an immediate possession procedure to obtain land on which to build new reactors.

Following the Senate vote next week, the bill will go to the lower house, the National Assembly, for consideration.

The bill is the counterpart to a bill which was voted on 10 January by the National Assembly, in its first reading, on the acceleration of renewable energy sources.

Nuclear accounts for almost 75% of France's power production, but former French president Francois Hollande's government announced in 2014 that nuclear capacity would be capped at the current level of 63.2 GWe and be limited to 50% of France's total output by 2025. The French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law, adopted in August 2015, did not call for the shutdown of any currently operating power reactors, but it meant EDF would have to close older reactors in order to bring new ones online. However, under a draft energy and climate bill presented in May 2019, France will now delay its planned reduction in the share of nuclear power in its electricity mix to 50% from the current 2025 target to 2035.

In February, President Macron announced that the time was right for a nuclear renaissance in France, saying the operation of all existing reactors should be extended without compromising safety and unveiling a proposed programme for six new EPR2 reactors, with an option for a further eight EPR2 reactors to follow.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News