Doctor in nuclear physics, professor-researcher at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Cnam), Emmanuelle Galichet analyzes the national production of electricity, which could remain live for several years yet, while the scenarios relating to national electricity consumption, far from the expected drop, they are on the rise due to the electrification of our uses.
With its production at its lowest since 1990, France will be an electricity importer this year. Is this an unprecedented situation?
Absolutely, there hasn’t been another year where we’ve been importers on average throughout the year as will be the case in 2022.
Is this a strictly cyclical situation or does it reveal a fragility of our situation?
Not a fragility, because if we had done things in advance we wouldn’t be there. It’s pretty circumstantial. It’s been a while since we’ve done anything for the nuclear fleet. We are not renewing positions due to lack of budget, many training courses have been closed in the last two decades – EDF had extraordinary internal schools that have disappeared -, because the scenarios of the time showed that France would need less and less electricity. Due to the country’s deindustrialization, energy efficiency improvement, etc. The political powers said to themselves: “What is the point of having such a large nuclear fleet?”
What was missing, to anticipate the renewal of the plants?
I should have started a little earlier. The EPR2s will come a little too late. For global warming nothing is ever too late. But due to the cliff effect of fleet renewal/life extension, this could have been anticipated. But the crucial point is precisely that there will be a shortage of personnel and skills, while the two years of Covid-19 have also severely penalized maintenance programs.
Stress corrosion cracking problems in some reactors will hamper EDF for a while longer. Will the situation remain delicate beyond this winter?
Tense, yes. Until we have completed the decennial inspections of the 1,300 and 1,400 MW reactors, I would say until 2025. There will still be two rather complicated winters.
If we look a little further, how long is the current nuclear fleet?
Only ASN can answer this question, the only authority empowered to indicate that a reactor is still capable of producing electricity. The car is a good comparison: you don’t sell a car for ten years or 100,000 km; if you use and maintain it correctly, replace the right parts at the right time, there’s no reason it shouldn’t last a long time. For a reactor it’s the same thing, you have to maintain and drive it correctly, the only thing you can’t change is the tank, it’s too complicated.
The Flammanville EPR will strengthen French production capacity, but is clearly behind schedule. When could it finally be coupled to the network?
Fuel will be loaded in mid-2023, testing still needs to be done; it will be in the first quarter of 2024 if all goes well.
The government wants to build six more EPRs. Only then will the situation really be more serene?
They shouldn’t be expected before 2035, at best; Projecting so far is complicated, so many things can happen. But if the scenarios, when we decided to abandon nuclear power, were those of a drop in electricity consumption, today they are totally opposite. One of them, with the electrification of uses and a strong reindustrialization, foresees an increase from 60 to 65% of the demand for electricity, against which these six EPRs would not be enough.
We must therefore review the PPE (Pluriannual Energy Program ed), which maximized nuclear power to 50% of our electricity production and provided for the closure of fourteen plants, a policy from which we have not come out. In 2023 it will be necessary to rewrite the DPI, close the plants only if the ASN declares that they are no longer able to produce, develop renewable energies, off-shore wind, put solar where possible, perhaps consider not limiting nuclear power to 50% .
There is a lot of talk about miniature reactors. Do they have their place in these perspectives?
It’s very moving. A year ago it was only intended for export. But there are those who believe today that we won’t be able to satisfy the demand of the domestic market if we don’t introduce a few of these SMRs (Ed, Small modular Reactors) into our mix.