Country profile: France

Summary figures for 2013

The following information is from the NEA publication Nuclear Energy Data, the annual compilation of official statistics and country reports on nuclear energy in OECD member countries.

Country
Number of nuclear power plants connected to the grid
Nuclear electricity generation
(net TWh) 2013
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
France
58
403.7
 
73.3
 
OECD Europe
133
833.1
23.7
 
Total
325
1 883.2
18.6
 

Country report

As of 31 December 2013, France's installed nuclear capacity consisted of 58 pressurised water reactors (34 x 900 MWe units, 20 x 1 300 MWe units and 4 x 1 450 MWe units), with uprates now totalling 63.13 GWe (net).

Nuclear power and electricity generation

The year 2013 was marked by a stabilisation of electricity consumption in France and a high level of hydropower production. The share of electricity production from renewable sources continues to grow despite a slowdown in the rate of development of the wind and photovoltaic sectors. Means of conventional thermal generation are rarely used, especially combined gas cycles.

Electricity consumption in France rose by 1.1% in 2013 to 495 TWh and generation increased by 1.7% to 551 TWh. Installed capacity declined by 0.7% to 128 GWe. The export balance was positive at 47 TWh. The share of electricity generated by nuclear power fell by 0.3% to 404 TWh, representing 73% of domestic production. Generation from fossil-fired thermal plants fell by 7% to 45 TWh. Coal use increased significantly (+14%), leading to a rise in CO2 emissions. Hydropower production rose substantially to 76 TWh (+19%). Wind power generation totalled 16 TWh (+6%) and solar power production amounted to 5 TWh (+16%). Power generated from other renewable sources amounted to 6 TWh (Source: Bilan électrique 2013, RTE).

Nuclear reactors

Following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, a nuclear rapid response force (FARN) was brought into service at the end of 2012. FARN operates out of regional bases at the Civaux, Paluel, Dampierre and Bugey plants.

A national debate on the French energy transition was launched in late 2012. The current government expressed a policy goal of reducing nuclear electricity generation to a 50% share of total generation, from the current share of about 75%. The debate is a way of gathering citizens' views on energy policy to address four key questions:

Legislation is expected to be presented to the government in late 2014 after a national debate on energy policy came to a close in September 2013.

The current government also wants to shut down the oldest reactors in France (the Fessenheim nuclear power plant that entered into service in 1978; two units with a combined capacity of 1.76 GWe) by 2016 – the end of President Hollande's current term. An inter-ministerial delegate has been appointed to clarify the timing and manner of closing Fessenheim.

Flamanville European pressurised reactor (EPR)

In 2013, major construction steps were achieved, including:

The Flamanville reactor is due to enter into service in 2016. Synergies and shared experience in EPR construction has been developed between the Olkiluoto, Flamanville and Taishan EPR sites and strong links have been established with Hinkley Point C.

ATMEA

The ATMEA1 reactor design is a third generation pressurised water reactor with a capacity in the range of 1 100 MWe net and a designed operational lifetime of 60 years. It was developed by the ATMEA 50/50 joint venture created in 2007 by AREVA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). In January 2012, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) issued a favourable assessment of the reactor's safety features. In June 2013, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Authority (CNSC) confirmed that the overall ATMEA1 design intent meets the most recent CNSC regulatory design requirements. In 2013, Japan and Turkey entered into exclusive negotiations over the construction of four ATMEA1 reactors in Turkey.

Research reactors

The Jules Horowitz research reactor (JHR), a project conducted by the CEA (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives), is an answer to a technological and scientific challenge – testing fuel and material behaviour in a nuclear environment and in extreme conditions. It will provide a unique experimental tool for the nuclear power industry, research institutes and nuclear regulatory authorities. The JHR will also be an important production site for nuclear medicine and non-nuclear industry materials. It will supply hospitals with short-lived radioisotopes used by medical imaging units for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes, contributing to about 25% of European radioisotope production (potentially up to 50%, if required). The JHR is being built at the CEA Cadarache in compliance with the highest level of safety required by the ASN and is scheduled to be commissioned by the end of the decade.

The JHR project brings together French industrial enterprises EDF (Électricité de France) and AREVA, along with Belgian, Czech, English, Finnish, Indian, Israeli, Spanish and Swedish partners, and research institutes with CEA in an international consortium. In exchange for financial participation, partners will benefit from guaranteed access to the experimental capacities of the facility to carry out their research priorities on material behaviour under irradiation.

Generation IV

In 2001, the 13 partners1 of the Generation IV International Forum established an official charter, launching the activity of the forum for co-operation on R&D to establish the feasibility and performance of the next generation of reactors. Its objective is to develop reactors with enhanced safety features that are sustainable, economically competitive and proliferation resistant, and that will generate only small amounts of ultimate waste forms. Six reactor concepts were selected at the end of 2002. France, strongly involved in this initiative, has decided to focus on two concepts: the gas-cooled fast reactor – as a long-term option in the ALLEGRO experimental-scale project; and the sodium fast reactor – the reference option represented by the advanced sodium technological reactor for industrial demonstration (ASTRID) an integrated technology demonstrator.

Studies on the ASTRID design began in 2010. By virtue of the act of 28 June 2006, the CEA was selected as the contracting authority for the project and subsequently received preliminary design phase funding through the "Investment for the Future" programme. The CEA proposed that ASTRID has a power rating of 1 500 MWth (or about 600 MWe), making it representative of commercial reactors (particularly for the demonstration of safety and operating modes) while ensuring sufficient flexibility for its objectives (with the possibility of subsequent changes or deferred installation of certain highly innovative options).

Building on the feedback from experience with former sodium-cooled fast reactors, very high-level requirements have been set for the ASTRID reactor design currently under development by the CEA and its partners. Innovations are needed to further enhance safety, reduce capital cost and improve efficiency, reliability and operability and to position this reactor at the level required for the fourth generation. During the first phase of ASTRID conceptual design (2010-2012), promising innovative options have been identified that will be further developed in subsequent phases of the design studies.

International thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER)

The ITER itinerary technical tests, carried out between 16 and 20 September 2013, turned out to be highly successful and demonstrated perfect adaptation to the itinerary. In April 2014, a full "dress rehearsal" was planned to validate the heaviest transit times, as well as the overall organisation involving the supervision of extraordinary non-standard material transit.

A decisive stage has also been reached in the construction of the ITER buildings. In 2013, Fusion for Energy (F4E) attributed a EUR 530 million contract within the framework of the design and production of mechanical and electrical equipment as well as the implementation of nuclear ventilation systems for 11 buildings at the "Tokamak complex".

On the construction site, the upper basemat of the main building is now undergoing construction and should be finalised in mid-2014. This is also the case for the building in which the ITER cryostat is to be assembled.

Fuel cycle

Uranium enrichment

In 2006, AREVA began work on the construction of the Georges Besse II centrifuge uranium enrichment plant at the Tricastin site, which will replace the Eurodif plant that had been in service since 1978. In 2013, the new plant reached a capacity of 5.5 million SWU (separative work unit). Georges Besse II is expected to reach an enrichment capacity of 7.5 million SWU in 2016. The gaseous diffusion plant, Eurodif, was decommissioned at the end of June 2012.

Fuel recycling

A framework agreement between EDF and AREVA for the recycling of all spent fuel (other than mixed oxide fuel – MOX) from French nuclear power plants was signed in 2008 for a period extending until 2040. Since 2010, the La Hague reprocessing plant now handles 1 050 t of EDF spent fuel a year (compared with 850 t previously) and the MELOX plant will produce 120 t of MOX fuel for French nuclear power plants.

Waste management

To date, 90% by volume of the radioactive waste generated by French operators is covered by effective long-term management solutions. The remaining 10% is packaged and placed in temporary storage pending final disposal (either in surface facilities or in deep geological repositories). Accordingly, the National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (Andra) manages existing storage facilities and conducts research into the deep geological disposal of long-lived high-level waste. In 2012, Andra published its latest national inventory of radioactive materials and waste. In 2013, La Direction générale de l'énergie et du climat (DGEC) and ASN published the 2013-2015 French National Plan for the management of radioactive materials and waste.

Very low-level waste is disposed of at the CIRES facility on the Morvilliers site (Aube), which is designed to accommodate 650 000 m3 of waste and has been in operation since the summer of 2003. Since then, more than 250 000 m3 of waste have been disposed of in this repository.

Short-lived low- and intermediate-level waste is disposed of at the CSA facility on the Soulaines-Dhuys site (Aube) following closure of the Manche site after final waste package placement in 1994. The Manche site entered a post-closure monitoring phase in 2003, having accommodated 527 000 m3 of radioactive waste during 25 years of operation. At the CSA facility, 280 171 m3 had been disposed of by the end of 2013.

Long-lived low-level waste must be disposed of in shallow repositories. Underground site investigations for shallow-depth disposal facilities are currently underway.

Long-lived high- and intermediate-level waste is subject to specific legislation, namely Law No. ­2006-739
of 28 June 2006 on the programme for long-term management of radioactive materials. This 2006 Planning Act completes and replaces the law of 30 December 1991 regarding schedules for research on partitioning and transmutation, studies and implementation of a deep geological disposal and lastly for studies on storage.

Advanced separation and transmutation

In December 2012, in accordance with the provisions of the Radioactive Materials and Waste Planning Act of 28 June 2006, the CEA submitted a report to the government with the results of research and prospects for possible new generations of nuclear systems. This report contains the results of seven years of R&D on minor actinide partitioning and transmutation processes.

The minor actinides are the main contributors to the heat released from vitrified waste packages, which to a large extent determine the design of repository disposal cells. Transmutation of the minor actinides will not eliminate the need for a deep geological repository, but could open the way to longer-term progress. The dimensions of a long-lived high-level waste repository could be reduced by a factor of 10 and, after the first few centuries, the radiotoxicity inventory of the waste could be diminished by up to a factor of 100. The minor actinides do not all contribute equally to the disadvantages mentioned above. The first target for a transmutation strategy could be americium, the element whose transmutation would be of the greatest benefit to waste management with the most limited impact on recycling operations.

The feasibility of minor actinide separation has been demonstrated in the laboratory for all the options under consideration today. There are no theoretical obstacles to extrapolating these processes to commercial scale – R&D could be pursued to optimise and consolidate these concepts.

The feasibility of transmutation of americium has been demonstrated at the scale of a few pellets in homogeneous mode in the core of fast neutron reactors. The first analytical irradiation experiments are now in progress for the heterogeneous transmutation option in the core periphery. The full report is available in the "energy" section of the CEA website – www.cea.fr.

Deep geological repository

Studies and research for a deep geological repository of high- and intermediate-level long-lived waste are being carried out under the guidance of Andra in the underground research laboratory in Meuse/Haute-Marne (Bure). The experimental zone, at a depth of 490 m, has been operational since April 2005. At the end of 2013, the laboratory had over 1 000 m of underground galleries. A tunnelling machine was successfully tested in 2013, using new technologies for lining the opened galleries. A micro-tunnelling robot was also successfully tested for high-level waste package disposal in horizontal boreholes.

In 2010, the government approved a 30 km2 area for the location of the underground facility of the future Industrial Geological Repository (CIGEO). The application for the construction of a disposal facility within this area will be submitted for approval by Andra by 2015. A permit for construction of the facility will then be granted by the Prime Minister, with a view to the facility entering into service by 2025. The public debate for the CIGEO Project took place from 15 May to 15 December 2013 followed by an exchange phase and conclusions that will be issued during the first quarter of 2014.

Storage

The studies and research conducted by Andra are aimed at creating new storage facilities or modifying existing facilities to meet planned requirements. Joint work between Andra and the waste producers was done in order to plan further needs until the geological disposal facility is available.

The 2006 Planning Act also provides for the financing of the avenues of research described above. In particular, it provides for a system of taxes on nuclear installations. Furthermore, the law secures the financing for long-term nuclear charges by establishing a specific regime applicable to the securing of the reserves, which operators must put in place to meet the costs of their long-term activities and responsibilities.

1. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, People’s Republic of China, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States in association with EURATOM.

Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2014

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Last reviewed: 15 December 2014