On nuclear energy, can we go “much faster” as Macron wants?

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Saint-Nazaire Sub-prefecture after a visit to the Saint-Nazaire offshore wind farm, off the coast of the Guerande peninsula in western France, on September 22. of 2022. (Photo by STEPHANE MAHE / POOL / AFP)
STEPHANE MAHE / AFP French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Saint-Nazaire Sub-prefecture after a visit to the Saint-Nazaire offshore wind farm, off the coast of the Guerande peninsula in western France, on September 22. of 2022. (Photo by STEPHANE MAHE / POOL / AFP)

STEPHANE MAHE / AFP

President Emmanuel Macron in Saint-Nazaire after a visit to the offshore wind farm on September 22, 2022. (Photo STEPHANE MAHE / POOL / AFP)

NUCLEAR – Open the first EPR reactors before 2035? This is the promise that Emmanuel Macron makes, without specifying the new chosen horizon. visiting Saint Nazarius On Thursday, September 22, the president developed his will in energy matters: on renewables, at the center of his visit to the first park ofoffshore wind turbines French, but also in the atom.

On the renewables side, the Head of State declared that he wanted to go “twice as fast”to reach the figure of one “fifty offshore wind farms” in 2050, while onshore wind power continues. Same enthusiasm for solar energy, which is why Emmanuel Macron raised the possibility of a “land release” : specifically, the authorization to place solar panels on industrial vacant lots, or even along roadsides.

It remains nuclear, therefore. ” I announced the first tranche in 2035 for nuclear power. What I wish is that we go much faster “, declared the president, returning to his plans unveiled last February. He then promised 6 EPR reactors by 2035 (the one in Flamanville planned for 2012, however, is not in operation), and 8 additional reactors under study to meet French energy needs.

So, it’s time to show solid momentum at a time when the strain is felt in the network. An ambition that materializes with the law for the acceleration of renewables that will be approved by the Council of Ministers on September 26, and in which Emmanuel Macron wants to be inspired for the nuclear park: “We can go much faster if we simplify things, so we will be in the same logic in the nuclear”.

But it’s not that simple, explains Ludovic Dupin, chief information officer at the French Nuclear Energy Company (SFEN).

Is it even possible to go faster as the president wants? And for what profit?

It is not feasible to rush the construction part of the project, but before the concrete is placed, it is. The administrative part, environmental impact study, building permit… Today these exams are sequential, they are done one after the other, or some of them can be done in parallel. Of course, this does not mean lowering safety standards or public debate. This is what was advertised. Agnes Pannier-Runacherevoking for January 2023 a law of “nuclear acceleration” equivalent to the one that will be presented for renewables.

Is this really going to save time?

Two things are limiting. At the moment no decisions have been made, and the law still provides for the closure of twelve reactors and not the opening of six. So a new law will be needed. So we need this simplification law as fast as possible; before concreting, which will start in 2027 at the latest. The reactor will still come online in 2035, but we are gaining margins: Emmanuel Macron’s announcements about construction schedules were made rather tensely. With this simplification, we will allow construction risks.

Does it seem like a viable strategy to want to speed up, when nuclear power raises so many questions in terms of safety?

It’s really impossible to take shortcuts when it comes to security. The Nuclear Safety Authority is independent. This danger was discovered in the current French park. [plus d’une dizaine de réacteurs français sont à l’arrêt pour des raisons de corrosion], is currently under repair. Also, EPRs are another technology. Finally, the important thing today is to be more autonomous, less dependent on fossil fuels, and for this the solution involves a mixture of nuclear and renewables.

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