Country profile: France

Summary figures for 2015

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) 2015
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
France
58
416.8
 
76.3
 
OECD Europe
131
805.0
22.9
 
OECD Total
317
1 878.7
18.4
 
NEA Total
352
2 073.9
18.7
 

Country report

Nuclear policy

France has a new energy law that caps nuclear capacity at the present level (63.2 gigawatts-electric [GWe] net) with a view to reducing its share in the electricity mix. One EPR is under construction at Flamanville.

The new policy also sets the goal of a 40% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions until 2030, compared with the 1990s level of 565 million tonnes. By that time, renewable energy sources should account for 40% of electricity consumption and 32% of total energy use. The policy sets the objective of halving total energy consumption by 2050. It also sets ambitious targets for expanding the use of electric vehicles with the number of charging points increasing from the current 10 000 to 7 million by 2030.

Nuclear power and electricity generation

Power consumption (about 475 TWh) experienced a slight recovery in an improved economic environment, after three years of stability.

Nuclear power accounts for 48.9% of installed capacity (63 GW) and 77% of electricity generated in 2015 (416 TWh).

The last six coal-fired power plants of 250 MW closed. In total, nearly 4 000 MW of installed capacity were withdrawn from the French coal fleet between 2013 and 2015.

The renewable electricity generation fleet continues to grow. It now exceeds 10 000 MW for wind energy and 6 000 MW for solar. The renewable wind generation represents about 4.5% of national consumption, that of solar 1.6%. With hydraulics, all renewable energies cover 18.7% of French consumption.

Nuclear reactors

As of 31 December 2015, 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, although individual capacities vary from these standard figures).

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

Flamanville European pressurised reactor

In 2015, major construction steps were achieved:

Synergies, especially in the commissioning domain, have been developed through shared experience at EPR construction sites in China (Taishan 1 and 2), Finland (Olkiluoto 3) and France (Flamanville 3), and strong links have already been established with the proposed construction site in the United Kingdom (Hinkley Point C). In addition, Areva and EDF are working on short-, medium- and long-term optimisations of EPR construction. These include simplifications and new construction methods that reduce costs and construction time.

ATMEA

The ATMEA1 reactor is a third generation pressurised water reactor with a capacity in the range of 1 200 MWe net, designed to be in operation for 60 years. It was developed by ATMEA, the 50/50 joint venture created in 2007 by Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. In January 2012, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) issued a favourable opinion on the ATMEA1 reactor safety options. In June 2013, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) confirmed that, overall, the ATMEA1 design intent meets the most recent CNSC regulatory design requirements. In April 2015, both the Intergovernmental Agreement and the Memorandum of Co-operation, including the Host Government Agreement for the construction of four ATMEA1 reactors at the proposed Sinop site in Turkey, were approved by the Turkish parliament. A feasibility study is currently underway.

Research reactors

The Jules Horowitz research reactor (JHR) project, conducted by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), is being undertaken to address technological and scientific challenges by testing fuel and material behaviour in a nuclear environment and in extreme conditions. It will be a unique experimental tool available to 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. It will supply hospitals with short-lived radioisotopes used by medical imaging units for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. The JHR will contribute 25% of the European production of medical radioisotopes or even up to 50% if required. The JHR is being built at CEA Cadarache in compliance with the highest level of safety required by ASN. It is expected to be commissioned by the beginning of the next decade.

It is acknowledged that European Material Testing Reactors (MTR) have provided an essential support for nuclear power programmes over the past 50 years within the European community. However, the large majority of these MTRs will be more than 50 years old this decade, leading to shutdowns for various reasons (life-limiting factors, heavy maintenance constraints, possible new regulatory requirements, etc.). Osiris was thus shut down in December 2015 for immediate decommissioning. It was a research reactor with a thermal output power of 70 megawatts located in the CEA headquarters in Saclay. Its operation was authorised in 1966. In particular, it produced radioisotopes used for medical imaging examinations, notably molybdenum-99 (Mo-99).

On the other hand, associated with hot laboratories for post-irradiation examinations, material testing reactors remain key structuring research facilities for the European research area in the field of nuclear fission energy. This analysis was already made by a thematic network of the Euratom 5th Framework Program, involving experts and industry representatives, in order to answer the question from the European Commission on the need for a new MTR in Europe (FEUNMARR, Future European Union Needs in Material Research Reactors, 5th FP thematic network, 2001-2002). Consequently, and in its specific position of new research reactor under construction in Europe, the JHR has been recognised as a research infrastructure of pan-European interest by the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) and identified on the ESFRI Roadmap since 2008.

The JHR launch benefited from a large consensus in Europe. Networks were successfully conducted under the Euratom framework programmes to build durable co-operation and support MTR European leadership (JHR-Collaborative Project [JHR-CP]; "Integrated Infrastructure Initiatives for Material Testing Reactor Innovations" [MTR+I3]).

The JHR will be operated as a pan-European user-facility open to international collaboration. As such, the JHR project is conducted within a consortium of funding organisations, now from ten countries, created in 2007. A broad scientific community is already gathered through seminars and working groups with a view to optimising the experimental capacity to reply to R&D needs.

Generation IV

In 2001, the 13 partners of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) established an official charter to launch its activities in co-operative R&D to establish the feasibility and performance of future reactors. Its objective is to develop reactors with enhanced safety that are sustainable, economically competitive, non-proliferating and that produce only small amounts of ultimate waste forms. Six reactor concepts were selected at the end of 2002. France is strongly involved in this initiative and has decided to focus on two concepts: the gas-cooled fast reactor, as a long-term option, with the ALLEGRO experimental-scale project, and the sodium fast reactor, the reference option, with the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) integrated technology demonstrator. Fast reactors have a number of advantages when it comes to radioactive material management while being complementary with the current French thermal reactor fleet. The ASTRID programme will thus enable France to fully follow a sustainable vision of nuclear energy, by developing systems that are able to go further in the fuel recycling strategy, so as to ensure the best management of radioactive materials and wastes, as well as of resources.

The ASTRID design studies began in 2010. By virtue of the act of 28 June 2006, CEA was selected as the contracting authority for the project and it also received funding for the preliminary design phase, through the "Investment for the Future" Programme (PIA). The CEA proposed ASTRID, with 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.

Based on the feedback of experience from former sodium-cooled fast reactors, very high levels of requirements have been set for the ASTRID reactor currently under study by CEA and its partners. Innovations are needed to further enhance safety, reduce capital costs and improve efficiency, reliability and operability, and to position this reactor at the level required for the fourth generation. During the first phase of the ASTRID conceptual design (2010-2012), promising innovative options have been identified. The conceptual design phase ended in December 2015 by providing a consistent design for ASTRID with the option steam-water power conversion system. An alternative power conversion system with nitrogen as a coolant has been studied, as it could eliminate sodium-water reaction risk. Moreover, the technical readiness level has been strongly increased and it has been decided to continue the design of the gas power conversion system during the basic design phase. That phase was launched in January 2016 for a duration of four years.

Following the transmission by the CEA of the safety guidance document ("Document d'orientation de sûreté") that underlines the important role of safety in guiding the ASTRID design, ASN received the opinion of its permanent expert group and concluded that the ASTRID project can proceed on the basis of this document.

This follows the 2012 Institute of Radiological Protection and Safety (IRSN) report "Panorama of Generation IV reactor technologies" ("Panorama des filières de réacteurs de Génération IV"). In this document, the sodium fast reactors and other reactor technologies selected by GIF were examined from the perspectives of safety and radiation protection. It may be recalled that the technology selection of GIF focused on safety, economics and sustainability. This latter characteristic tends to prefer only fast spectrum reactors that are able to effectively multi-recycle plutonium. An update of the 2012 report has been issued in 2015.

Preliminary studies have been carried out for the design of the Fuel Fabrication Facility ("AFC") and the assessment of different options has started at the end of 2015 so as to prepare the launch of the second step of the conceptual design phase.

A report was submitted to the French government in June 2015, which presented "the progress of research in the field of plutonium multi-recycling and of partitioning-transmutation in fast reactors" since 2012.

International thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER)

The ITER project is the culmination of more than 60 years of research in the field of fusion energy. The development of this energy source has the dual objective of providing sustainable power and fighting global warming. Currently under construction at Cadarache (Bouches-du-Rhône department), ITER is an essential step towards the commercialisation and large-scale generation of fusion power. The ITER members (China, European Union, Switzerland, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States) represent more than half of the world's population and 85% of the gross industrial output (GIO). They are pooling their human, scientific, technical and financial resources to overcome one of the greatest challenges currently facing mankind. Site preparation and construction of the first ITER buildings has already generated more than EUR 4.5 billion in contracts; 288 companies are currently working on the ITER construction site in the south of France. At the same time, component manufacturing is progressing worldwide and the convoys are arriving one after the other on-site with components (transformers, massive tanks, elements of the cryostat, crane beams, etc.) More than 2 000 people, whether staff directly or indirectly employed by ITER Organization or contractors, are now located on the site. There are about a dozen construction sites underway simultaneously: the tokamak buildings are slowly coming out of the ground, the assembly hall is now towering over the site at a height of 60 metres, and construction of the cryogenic plant has just been launched. These dynamics foster the installation of international companies, generating more than 350 jobs. By meeting the requirements voiced by ITER, the industry can refine its know-how and develop skills that can then be exploited in other business sectors, while stimulating the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region's local economy.

Fuel cycle

Uranium enrichment

In 2006, Areva began work at the Tricastin site on construction of the Georges Besse II uranium enrichment plant, which replaced the current Eurodif plant that had been in service since 1978 and was decommissioned at the end of June 2012. In 2013, Georges Besse II reached a capacity of 5.5 million separative work units (SWU) and will reach an enrichment capacity of 7.5 million SWU in 2016.

Fuel recycling

A framework agreement between EDF and Areva for the recycling of all spent fuel (other than mix oxide fuel) from French nuclear power plants was signed in 2008 for a period extending until 2040. A contract implementing this agreement for 2016-2023 has been signed in February 2016.

The La Hague reprocessing plant therefore treats 1 100 t of spent EDF fuel annually, and the Melox plant is producing 276 assemblies of mixed oxide fuel per year for French nuclear plants.

Waste management

In its document "Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection in France in 2013" (Sûreté nucléaire et radioprotection en France en 2013), the ASN determined that R&D studies are occurring according to the three main axes defined in the Waste Act of 28 June 2006. That is, separation-transmutation of long-lived radioactive elements, storage and reversible disposal in deep geological formations.

Moreover, in its opinion paper of 4 July 2013 on the transmutation of long-lived radioactive elements, the ASN considers that "the possibilities for separation and transmutation of long-lived radioactive elements should not be a determining factor in the choice of technology examined as part of the fourth generation. Indeed, the expected gains from the transmutation of minor actinides in terms of safety, radiation protection and waste management do not appear particularly critical given the constraints imposed on fuel cycle facilities, reactors and transportation."

To date, effective long-term solutions are in place for short-lived waste, which amount to 90% of the generated volume of radioactive waste. The remaining 10% is conditioned and stored pending the implementation of a near-surface, subsurface or deep geological repository. The National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (Andra) operates the existing repositories and conducts research and studies for further repositories. In 2013, the DGEC1 and ASN updated the French National Plan for the management of radioactive materials and waste. In 2014, Andra updated the National Inventory of Radioactive Materials and Waste (published in 2015) and participated, in co-operation with the ASN, in the development of the Fifth National Report on compliance with the IAEA Joint Convention Obligations (safety of spent fuel and radioactive management).

Very low-level waste (VLLW) is disposed of at the CIRES repository site near Morvilliers (Aube). The CIRES was commissioned in 2003, and up to end of 2015 302 947 m3 of waste have been disposed at the site, representing 47% of its capacity.

Low- and intermediate-level short-lived waste (LILW-SL) is disposed of in the Centre de Stockage de l'Aube (CSA) near Soulaines-Dhuys (Aube). The CSA was commissioned in 1992, in connection with the shutdown of the Centre de Stockage de la Manche (CSM) in 1994, which is now in the post-closure monitoring phase with 527 000 m3 of nuclear waste. Presently, 304 451 m3 of waste has been disposed in the CSA, representing 30.4% of its capacity.

Low-level long-lived waste (LLW-LL) must be disposed in subsurface repositories. Site investigations and studies are currently underway.

High-level waste (HLW) and intermediate-level long-lived waste (ILW-LL) are subject to the 2006 law, which defines the time schedule for research on partitioning and transmutation, design and implementation of a deep geological disposal, and design studies of storage facilities.

Advanced separation and transmutation

In December 2012, in accordance with the provisions of the sustainable radioactive materials and waste management act of 28 June 2006, the CEA submitted a report to the government with the results of research and prospects for the possible new generation of nuclear systems. This report contains the results of seven years of R&D on minor actinide partitioning and transmutation processes.

The CEA submitted a new report to the French government in June 2015, which presented "the progress of research in the field of plutonium multi-recycling and of partitioning-transmutation in fast reactors" since 2012. The full report is available in the "Energy" section of the CEA website: www.cea.fr.

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 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. 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, and which has 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. In particular, a more optimised separation scheme of the americium has been tested in the ATALANTE Laboratory at the end of 2015, the so-called "concentrated EXAm process". There are no theoretical obstacles to extrapolating these processes to commercial scale, and 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 MARIOS experiment is now under examination in the CEA LECA-STAR Laboratory hot cells and the irradiation of the DIAMINO experiment in the OSIRIS experimental reactor was completed at the end of 2015, and post-irradiation examination will follow. A new irradiation is under preparation in the framework of the "integral experiment" aiming at separating americium from spent fuel by the EXAm process and recycling it in the ATR reactor (US  Department of Energy) at the scale of a few pellets of (U,Am)O2.

Deep geological repository

Studies and research for a deep geological repository are carried out by Andra in an underground laboratory in Meuse/Haute-Marne (Bure). The experimental area, at a depth of 490 m, was commissioned in 2005. At the end of 2015, the total length of experimental galleries in the laboratory reached 1 500 m.

A 30 km2 area of interest was approved by the government in 2010 for the location of the underground industrial repository (CIGEO). In 2013, a national public debate was held. One of its conclusions was to insert an industrial pilot phase between commissioning and normal operations. Considering some changes in regulatory requirements, the licence application to construct the CIGEO disposal facility will now be fully submitted in 2018. In early 2016, several key documents were submitted to the safety authority, within the context of the licence application, especially a master plan for operations including the pilot phase. The "reversibility" act is expected to be passed by the parliament, before the licence is granted (expected in 2021), in order to allow for commissioning in 2025 and for the beginning of operational activities in the late 2020s.

Storage

Long-lived waste is stored at production sites. The duration of the HLW storage period will last 60 years or more, depending on the thermal power decay required for acceptance in the deep repository. For this purpose and for the management of ILW-LL and LLW-LL, pending the availability of disposal facilities, new storage capacities are being developed by nuclear operators. Storage needs in relation to the implementation of the repositories are jointly defined by operators and Andra.

Research on radioactive waste storage was reoriented by the 2006 law. Storage aims to facilitate waste management between the waste generation and repository availability. This research programme is conducted by Andra, with a particular focus on lifetime (at least 100 years), versatility and modularity of the facilities.

Financing

The 2006 Planning Act also defines the financing of the three avenues of research described above, the process for assessing long-term costs and the obligations of the operator in establishing and securing their reserves.

Decommissioning

Cleaning and dismantling for decommissioning of nuclear facilities are immediately performed after the operating period followed by post-operational clean out (POCO) operations. This strategy, adopted by the nuclear operators, is in accordance with the ASN preferred option. Each operator/owner manages the dismantling of its plants that were shut down. The main facilities undergoing decommissioning are:

Decommissioning activities lead to the development and adaptation of the specific skills in the field of research and development (mainly done within CEA and the industrial companies involved) such as chemical, mechanical and thermal processes for decontamination, remote operations, robotics and virtual reality, radiation measurement and nuclear characterisation (from initial stage to final site and buildings release). Decommissioning activities also lead to education and training for operators, technicians and engineers, and optimised processes for building and site cleaning based on a geostatistical methodology. Decommissioning feedback experience provides useful information and data for the design of new facilities (such as engineering, material behaviour and containment).

1. General Directorate for Energy and Climate (Direction Générale de l'Énergie et du Climat), part of the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.

Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2016

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Last reviewed: 21 December 2016