France’s 2025 nuclear target

The current French government supposedly have plans to go from 75% to 50% nuclear by 2025. The fact that the reduction is 25% should instantly raise a skeptical eyebrow. Such things are almost always driven by politics, and not solid economics (a fine example is the EU’s 2020 target of 20% renewables, 20% emissions cuts, and 20% energy efficiency all by 2020, well pilloried by Dieter Helm in The Carbon Crunch.)

So, how will France reducing it’s nuclear power down from 75 to 50% play out? We don’t know electricity demand in 2025, but let’s assume it’s the same as today, and ignore that France has a new nuclear reactor under construction. So, we somehow need to reduce the total nuclear capacity by one third in 13 years. France nuclear power plants are currently licensed to run for 40 years. What would happen if we just shut them all down at that point? Curiously, of the 58 nuclear reactors in action today, 34 would actually be shutdown by 2025. In capacity terms that’s a drop from 63 to 31.5 GW (50%). So, unless France plans to massively cut electricity demand by 2025, or build a handful of new reactors, shutting the reactors at the end of their licensing period is simply not going to work.

So, a lifetime extension is necessary to make their numbers add up. How much? Well, a ten year life extension just leaves everything on the grid in 2025, so that won’t do. What we actually find is that a 2 year life extension let’s them hit 2/3rds by 2025. If someone can point to an economic rationale behind such a proposal I would love to hear it.

The choice France has then is between keeping the reactors running for another decade, building more reactors, or having a punt on renewables. The first is clearly the cheapest option, yet they seem to be leaning towards the third option. And this in climate terms is like spending a great deal of money on a new suit that is identical to the old one.

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13 thoughts on “France’s 2025 nuclear target”

  1. I think we have to see Hollande and mates as card carriers for orthodox green chic. Fortunately I can sometimes pull greenie rank on these people when I point out I drive on chip oil and haven’t used resistive heating or cooking for nearly a decade. There’s always someone greener like the off grid couple nearby with tracking PV and a battery bank. The bloke did confide to me one time ‘I’m getting too old for this sh*t’ and then with no prompting from me said we’d all be better off with cheap nuclear electricity.

    What Hollande and other trendies don’t realise is that they are the bottom end of the spectrum of greenness. They’re what I’d call dinner party greenies, the sort that trot out lines like ‘oh yes I believe in using nuclear the sun is a nuclear reactor thankfully a long long way from us’. Clink clink go the expensive glasses of red. Are these people clever or innumerate privileged twits? Maybe if they had to live on turnips, burnt twigs and 5 kwhe a day it wouldn’t seem so chic after all. I think a key step has to be to question the moral authority these people think they hold.

  2. I briefly discussed this with Mark Lynas yesterday on twitter. Interesting to see it explained this way, as yesterday he’d assumed the pledge meant taking exisitng reactors offline. These figures suggest it means they have to have life extensions.

    You ask for an economic rationale for the 2 yr extension – I’m not going to pretend I can provide it. But I can offer an insight to the way Government’s set targets, which may help. Politicians have to sell the decisions they make and they have to have a reasonably hope they will work (or run the risk of selling a decision that then fails – which despite being fairly common is something they avoid).

    Target setting is usually an process, where a politician comes under pressure to set a target, they become convinced it will make them popular if they back this target as people will understand their aims, they work out if they will be able to meet the target by calculating cost/ambition/lights staying on etc, then they agree the target. Then they publicise their support of the target, sometimes because that encourages the investment/activity that helps meet it, sometimes to win votes.

    If that middle working out bit points to the possiblity of a target of 48.3% being possible, politicians call it 50% and hope for the best. 48.3% doesn’t make a good slogan, and the final figure is likely to be slightly different anyway.

    I have no idea what France are doing, but it doesn’t seem far fetched from the figures you give that looking at the 40 reactors, noticing some are looking expensive to patch up and keep going, while others can carry on happily will give an average life extension of 5 yrs that makes the 2/3rds promise lok likely. If they have assume a bit of increasing electricity demand, this may be a bit more so. Having looked over their figures, and knowing saying something about reducing nuclear reliance would be popular and perhaps persuade investment in renewable plant to replace reactors going off line.

    Politicians have to tread a line between rational and populist – they can’t deliver things that are not possible, and they can’t deliver things if voted out. It’s a messy thing democracy, but pretending it has no effect makes you ask the wrong questions.

  3. Martyn

    I agree wholly that these numbers are normally rounded up to give them a better appeal. However, my main argument is that the 50% figure appears to have no rationale, other than as a sop to the Green Party. In pure cost terms keeping the plants running appears to be a no brainer ( whether it’s new build nuclear, or building windfarms. The 50% figure really appears to be a trade off between how much renewables they think they can deliver, and how little nuclear the Greens want (i.e. zero).

    Now, whether the current French government has serious plans for 50% nuclear in 2025 actually seems quite questionable. I could be wrong, but I think the figure was only mentioning in campaigning. Since the election, where the Greens didn’t do so well, they seem to have back tracked quite a bit ( So, it’s probably wrong to say France even has a target of 50%, it was more of a negotiating ploy with the Greens prior to the election. Though, I could be wrong on that.

  4. I wasn’t defending the French situation, but addressing the first two lines of the blog, in which you suggest when any target that is a round number must be based on politics, with no sound economic justification. Guess I just think that is just “economist snobbery”.

    The figures were very interesting though, and worth a read. thanks

    1. Very definitely a sop for the Greens Robert. Their irrational opposition to nuclear power, thereby causing greater use of fossil fuels, especially coal over the past 20 years or so, has done more than anything to cause the apparent CO2 problem the world faces. It’s time the German and French governments ignored them. They’ve become an absolute menace to the world with their outrageous exaggeration on what the renewables can deliver for greenhouse reduction targets and their blind refusal to countenance nuclear power as the best option for a secure, emissions-free base load supply. And we need to tell Christine Milne and her party to open their minds and help Australia do what most of the rest of the developed world is doing and that is going nuclear. Surely, the question they and the rest of the anti – nukes should ask is: “Why are 31 countries using nuclear power and another 17 planning to do so? Two reasons: they want a secure base load supply and without greenhouse emissions.

  5. You know, it’s not mandatory to enforce a blanket life extension. You may close some reactors after a 40 year lifetime, and left some others up & running. So no 2 year lifetime extension, but rather once the 50% line is reached, no further reactor is closed or not replaced.

    As for the CO2 emissions, the 50% nuclear policy is certainly the worst on the table and this is already well documented. One just has to read available documents that draw some prospective scenarios. Here is an example by RTE (the grid operator, a 100% EDF subsidiary) : around p140. It’s in french, sorry for that.

    Here is the conclusion: by 2030, emissions in the 50% nuclear scenario are 30Mt for the electricity sector with a lower electricity demand, production & exports than in the high consuption scenario. This scenario has 27Mt emissions. And by 2025, emissions in the 50% nuclear scenario are 40Mt. The only scenarios with lower emissions actually go for a reduction in electricity demand. I think this is pretty much idiotic as electricity is mostly decarbonized in France.

    1. Thanks

      The point of the blog was just to do some ball park analysis of what a 50% nuclear plan would need, not to do realistic scenarios.

      The impact on emissions is not likely to be good. Even if renewables make up the slack, electricity prices will go up pushing industry outside France and thus exporting emissions. It is just a distraction from decarbonising the rest of the economy.

      1. Prices don’t have to go up for the biggest industrial consumers. Look at what happens in Germany: big industrial consumers are mostly exempted from the renewable tax. They pay a token 0.5€/MWh. It’s the same in France, this tax has a maximum in terms of added value. Big industries also have the means to buy on the wholesale market, where prices are kept down by the same expensive renewables. On the spot market, prices are set by the marginal price of the last means called, not the LCoE, and a feed-in tariff sets this marginal price to 0. Thus the price decreases vis-à-vis a situation without feed-in tariffs.

        In a nutshell, all is paid for by regular people and smaller firms. In Germany, the tax is so high that some firms are running empty to guarantee they will get exempted from the tax.

        However, your conclusion is true: it’s a waste of money & a distraction in the effort to decarbonise.

    2. Hi Proteos, there’s actually quite a bit more to say about the 50% nuclear ‘nouveau mix’ (“new mix”) scenario for 2030. I don’t know if that scenario makes me laugh or cry.
      - they assume improved efficiency will be able to make savings of 57,3 TWh in the residential sector (p34) Thanks to that there is *no* increase in consumption which stays at the 2011 157 TWh level despite a 0.7%/y surface increase
      - tertiary sector would make savings of 38,9 TWh and stays at 2011 level
      - Industry also make 20 TWh savings and stay at 2011122 TWh level
      Only transportation rises significantly by 30 TWh almost tripling due to EVs.
      - peak demand increases only very slightly despite a significant increase in electrical heating (this is *not* what happened in recent times. Better insulation may keep peak demand under control, if you forget it’s real cause is more computing/tv and the like than heating)
      - We’d rise to as much wind and solar as Germany today (good luck finding the locations for that much wind), 28 GW wind and 30 GW solar, but in addition 12 GW offshore for 40 GW wind total. And also 3 GW tidal turbine. And gain 5 GW biomass. Coal is significantly lower (this will come very soon, many of the closure are for the 3 next years), a good part is compensated by new gas but also demand reduction contract (it seems they didn’t ask themselves how well this would play with the huge efficiency improvement). Also 2 GW Pumped and 1 GW hydro.
      - With all that, we’d still need much more imports than today and rise the capacity from 9.5 to 23 GW. Probably just as much needed in export for the excess production (assuming our neighbor are willing to accept it, despite the inconvenient fact they all are likely to go solar, and would likely have much wind too, which is *not* massively different from the production in France)
      - But despite all the irrealist assumptions, they **still** end up with more carbon than in 2011 going from 26.7 to 30.8 MT in 2030.
      - And in the intermediate step of 2025, wind production has been multiplied by 5, solar by 10, hydro by 50% (which brings more than solar), but gas is also multiplied by 4, which results in going up to 40 MT CO2.

  6. I feared this might happen when the EU bullied France into privatising Électricité de France. For no discernible reason, it seemed that half the nuclear reactors in Britain became useless and were decommissioned not very long after Thatcher sold them into private hands. “British Energy” is now a subsidiary of EDF.
    China and Russia will not make that mistake, and so far the USA is still doing it wrong, although TVA still has some nuclear capacity ostensibly owned by Us, the People. Sad to say, one of the reactors owes its existence to its obligation to provide tritium for You-Know-What.

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