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.