France has 56 nuclear reactors out of the 444 nuclear reactors globally, and is often held up as a poster child of the nuclear industry, whereas there is much misinformation about nuclear in France. Is this deliberate and purposeful deception or simply lack of knowledge?
Nuclear power is the largest source of electricity in France, with a generation of 379.5 TWh, or 70.6% of the country’s total electricity production of 537.7 TWh, the highest percentage in the world. Since June of 2020, it has 56 operable reactors totalling 61,370 MWe, one under construction (1630 MWe), and 14 shut down or in decommissioning (5,549 MWe).
Why Did France Go All Out for Nuclear
France went big on 45 nuclear stations during the 1980’s and added another 8 in the 1990s:
- It has no natural fossil fuel resources on its territory
- It needed them for its nuclear weapons.
Status of Nuclear Plants
Every year an independent commission suggests the regulatory electricity price in France. Every year they tell the government that it has to go up to meet the cost of decommissioning the reactors. Every year the government recoils in horror and says, “Not on my watch.”
Between 1973 and 1998 France shut down 7 reactors. Only one has been dismantled, two are in the process of decommissioning. One of them was shut down in 1985, the other in 1998.
Successive governments have not been enthusiastic about speeding up the process because it means higher electricity prices.
Often touted as reliable, the fleet is actually old (many 40 years) and the company has inadequate funds. In April, a report from The Times reported that the operator of France’s electricity grid, Réseau de Transport d’Électricité (RTE), had asked customers to cut consumption as cold weather increases demand at a time when about half the country’s nuclear reactors are offline.
Private Investment Failure
In most other countries, private investment has built fossil fuel plants or more recently renewable energy generation. Private investment runs a mile from nuclear because of the uncertain return on investment and the risk to investors. In France, the EDF (Electricite de France) is the major company for nuclear.
- Nuclear is more than 3 times more expensive than other sources.
- Take too long to build
- Are a high risk investment
- Give low returns on investment
- Vulnerable to a lack of cooling water on the generating side
- Are a terrorist risk (dirty bomb)
- Low social acceptance.
Bloomberg reports the French Government is looking to nationalise debt-laden power company EDF. It holds an 84% stake in the $30bn energy giant. , could retain domestic business but review overseas operations. In Feb 2022, the Government offered $2.4bn to support EDF, as the group sees a hit to profits due to outages at several of its nuclear plants and the impacts of a government power-price cap.
From the most recent balance sheet, EDF had liabilities of €97b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €201b due beyond that. It had cash of €43.4B and €40.9B receivables or net liabilities of €214.7b.
This debt towers over the €30.6b company.
- By 2013 about 370,000 tonnes of spent fuel had been produced
- Less than 120,000 tonnes had been processed.
- That leaves 250,000 tonnes with more being produced every year
- Global processing capacity is only 5,000 tonnes per year
- France there were over 1,000 incidents involving reactors in 2019 alone.
Accidents and Incidences
Are these events serious? Maybe no, as they did not lead to major accidents. Or if you are a pessimist, just darn lucky.
The nuclear fleet is aging, unreliable and broke.