November 27, 2021

eight questions raised by the announced return of nuclear power in France

What place should France give to nuclear power in the context of its energy transition? By announcing, without going into detail, Tuesday, November 9, his desire to relaunch the French nuclear program, President Emmanuel Macron took a position and helped impose the debate five months before the next presidential election.

With its 56 reactors and some 70% of electricity from nuclear power, France has one of the most carbon-free electricity systems in Europe. But its park, built between the 1970s and 1990s, the second largest in the world behind the United States, is aging: 36 years on average. For reasons of obsolescence, it will largely have to be shut down by the middle of the century.

The country will therefore have to replace this significant low-carbon electricity production capacity. At the same time, to meet its climate objectives and reduce its still majority consumption of fossil fuels, it will above all have to produce 35% more terawatt-hours of electricity than today by 2050, according to the central scenario of the Network. electricity transmission network (RTE), the national operator of the electricity transmission network.

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In this context, should France launch a program to build other new generation reactors in series, the EPR (acronym for “European pressurized reactor”)? Or would it do better to bet everything on renewable energies such as wind or solar power, and gradually move out of nuclear power? On this subject, opinion, experts and politicians remain divided.

  • Are new reactors essential in the face of the climate challenge?

For his supporters, to do without the atom at the time of the climate emergency would be an aberration. Nuclear power is, along with wind power, the energy source that emits the least greenhouse gases during its life cycle, from ore extraction to the dismantling of facilities. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear energy has prevented at least the equivalent of 60 gigatonnes of CO in the world2 since 1970, or five years of global emissions from the electricity sector. Reactors also have the advantage of producing electricity on demand and continuously, unlike wind turbines and solar panels, whose production varies with the weather or the day / night cycle. They are, for their defenders, an essential complement to the development of renewables.

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