Government reveals bill to speed up nuclear projects

As France prepares to launch a program to build six EPR2 reactors, the government wants to simplify and accelerate the administrative procedures that precede the first concrete pours for the foundations of the reactor and fuel buildings. These measures do not affect safety requirements, environmental protection conditions, or public consultation.

During the inauguration of the first French offshore wind farm in Saint Nazaire on September 22, the French President announced the government’s intention to accelerate projects for new nuclear reactors. Questioned on Europe 1, the Minister of Ecological Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher confirmed that the government’s objective is “to be able to accelerate the administrative procedures because we already know these sites (of implantation of reactors on the EDF power plants, editor’s note) from the environmental point of view (…) they are already urbanized.

This translates into the presentation of a “Bill to accelerate the construction of new nuclear facilities near existing nuclear sites.” The first pair of EPR2s to be built at Penly will not see its first nuclear concrete poured until 2027 for commissioning the first reactor in 2035. EDF’s second pair will be made in Gravelines. The third will be located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, at Tricastin or Bugey. EDF has a land reserve on many existing sites.

Treating low-carbon energies equally

The Minister’s office explains that this is not an exception for nuclear power and that the objective is to “treat all low-carbon energies in the same way.” He added: “We will not make simplifications for nuclear power that we would not make for other types of low-carbon energy production facilities.” This bill aims to do for nuclear what we have done for many other energies and projects, which comes to simplifying and administrative parallelizations,” he said.

The simplifications provided in the text are of two kinds. On the one hand, it is a question of making the decree of authorization of creation, the DAC, “a true single administrative authorization which includes the whole of the administrative decisions which previously were superimposed,” explains the ministry of the Ecological transition.

Two ways to simplify

On the other hand, it is a question of carrying out several operations in parallel. It is a matter of being able to start the preparatory work in parallel with the instruction of the authorization decree by the nuclear safety authority (ASN). The initial work, which does not concern the reactor’s construction, can begin after obtaining an environmental authorization issued by the prefect after a public inquiry and environmental assessment. This includes, for example, the preparation of buildings attached to the facility or earthworks.

This bill does not call into question the EPR2 public debate, which will take place from October 2022 to February 2023. It also has no impact on safety and environmental criteria. Nuclear and renewable projects (ENR are also the subject of a bill) would benefit from a common exemption that allows them to be automatically qualified as a project of “major public interest.” This is an important measure that simplifies the management of disputes. However, in no case does it allow for a waiver of the obligations related to the protection of species, i.e., to demonstrate the absence of an alternative solution to the disturbance of fauna and flora after research into ways of avoiding and reducing impacts by proposing compensation measures. “We do not change in any way our ambition in terms of environmental protection and biodiversity, including in the vicinity of nuclear power sites,” confirms the Ministry of Energy Transition.

The Minister’s office believes that accelerating a new nuclear construction project has “two virtues” from an economic and climate point of view. On the one hand, it accelerates the arrival on the network of decarbonized means of production. On the other hand, it reduces the project’s total cost by reducing the impact of the cost of capital. In that way, it will impact the cost of producing electricity and, ultimately, the consumer bill. ■

Published on 4 October 2022

By Ludovic Dupin (Sfen)

Copyright Photo :  ©CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP