A report on the future of French nuclear energy — recently made public amid a swirl of Sarkozy Administration pronouncements about challenging development for "France Nuclear Inc." — recommends that France seize a global leadership position in building new reactors, while safeguarding its domestic industry and uranium supplies.
The report, entitled “The Future of the French Nuclear Industry,” states bluntly: “In a market that has become global and competitive, and after some regrettable vicissitudes, it is important that henceforth the nuclear industry reorganize itself to consolidate its strengths, reinforce its coordination and develop its exporting performance, its principal market in the future.”
Ordered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in October 2009, the June 16, 2010 French report, written by Francois Rouseely, a former chairman of EDF (Electricité de France), suggests that France already maintains a leading role in the nuclear power industry worldwide, since a majority of France’s power is derived from nuclear energy.
But the Rouseely Report warns that France’s leadership role could be eclipsed in a global nuclear energy market that is growing as concerns over carbon emissions and problems with other forms of energy production grow. It encourages more support from the French government.
“The new industrial battle of civil nuclear power,” the report states, “is now so important that it requires nations to invest, at times abandoning their traditional positions, in strengthening vigorously and at the highest levels the business development of their major companies while also increasing intergovernmental agreements.”
Indeed, the report displays an unusual level of government-industry cooperation. Corporate France maintains a leading position in the nuclear sector globally, and it empowers industrial leaders, such as the French companies AREVA, EDF and Alstom, Bouygues and Vinci to pursue new business abroad.
The report repeatedly stresses the need for safety in nuclear technology, noting that France has never experienced a nuclear accident.
But the main thrust of the study is nuclear expansion — calling the growing need for both replacement reactor construction at home and in new markets abroad as vital to its nuclear companies.
“The actors in the French nuclear industry (EDF, AREVA, ASLTOM) are the uncontested industrial leaders in France and are the ones to have first acquired expertise in this area,” the report states. “On the international level, the challenge is newer and more difficult: France must capture a significant part of the nuclear plant market, a market that is extremely segmented and very competitive.”
The report recommends that EDF and AREVA be given the lead as France’s premiere nuclear concerns.
“As a rule, EDF must be the architect-engineer of the ‘French Team’ for constructing nuclear power plants, both in France and abroad.
“The architect-engineer should bring together all the expertise needed in all areas concerned and, in particular, should have the direct or indirect knowledge of an operator in order to optimize the implementation and to benefit from operating experience in all the details of the final design.”
AREVA, the study notes, “today consolidates the business of the nuclear fuel cycle, the design and manufacture of nuclear islands, and the operation of plants.”
The report also recommends that the two concerns unite their efforts in a “strategic imperative” when it comes to foreign contracts, as in China.
“This strategic agreement is an imperative necessity for France, to effectively unite its civil nuclear industry internationally, to prepare for the challenge of the renewal of French nuclear power plant fleet, to be part of the necessary upturn of the French economy. A review of the current geopolitics of nuclear energy shows the fundamental role of China.
“EDF and AREVA have been actively present for many years in China. In this context, it is recommended that, with their experience, AREVA and EDF offer the Chinese players a contract of partnership, under the auspices of the government.”
On the international front, the report suggests that, “Simultaneously, the mission of the International French Nuclear Agency (AFNI) must be expanded to develop a French international nuclear consulting program. In effect, each state desiring to develop civil nuclear power, or considering developing a fleet of nuclear power stations must create or reassess ‘a safety baseline.’ This baseline would be made up of a series of standards, plans and procedures competing for the safety and security (interior and exterior) of nuclear facilities and their site. France is in a position to offer its cooperation in the establishment or improvement of these standards.”
The study suggests that current problems encountered on projects by French nuclear companies must be quickly addressed. These include Finland’s Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant, an AREVA project that is over budget and behind schedule, and in Flamanville which EDF manages in France, which has also seen schedule slippage.
While the report is remarkable for its candor about the problems with the EPR reactor construction, it also focuses on nuclear market prospects in the United Kingdom, where EDF is poised to become one of the first developers of the next generation of nuclear plants.
The report is all together silent on the U.S. market. However, EDF is a 50 percent owner in Constellation Energy which has partnered with Areva to form Unistar, LLC, which currently has a COL license application under review by the NRC for a new EPR at the Calvert Cliffs site in Maryland.
Unistar also has a DOE loan guarantee application pending at DOE and has been struggling in the face of recent negative publicity over the EPR cost and schedule overruns at Olkiluoto and Flamanville. It is also hobbled by what appears to be a trifecta of unfriendly economic business trends — slower electricity growth, lower future gas price projects and the extended lack of carbon pricing.
The report also notes that in France, public acceptance of nuclear power is vital to the industry’s future, as are concerns over the treatment of nuclear waste.
“For the French, the trump card of nuclear energy is its essential contribution to the energy independence of France.
"Since 2005 more than 70% [of the population] recognize that nuclear power allows us this independence. 7 out of 10 French citizens think that the nuclear power is good for our economy and creates jobs…
“The management of nuclear waste requires the development of a communication effort: for 60 to 70 percent of the French, it is the most compelling argument against nuclear power.”
The report addresses all aspects of France’s nuclear industry, from reactor production and sales to “back end” storage of nuclear waste. Regarding the latter, France faces the same dilemma the U.S. is currently now wrestling with: a deep geological repository.
French law requires “a legal regulatory” deadline of 2015 for the authorization and implementation of the plan for a deep storage center project, according to the report. Currently, France stores nuclear waste above ground and it is often cited by opponents of the U.S. Yucca Mountain repository as a model for an alternative to deep geological storage such as Yucca.
In fact, as the report notes, France is also pursuing deep storage as a permanent measure.
To promote the French nuclear industry, the report suggests that, “The strategic importance and magnitude of the issues to be addressed as well as the leadership and coordination required to implement a nuclear program justifies the creation of either a Department of Energy headed by a full minister, or a secretary general attached to the Presidency of the Republic."
Finally, the report recommends greater cooperation among French nuclear companies when it comes to Research and Development.
“To facilitate greater efficiency of research and development in the French nuclear industry, the coordination between different actors, mainly CEA, EDF and AREVA, must be strengthened.
"It is thus proposed that a strategic R&D plan on the national level be developed with CEA, the relevant ministries and the key industries."