Nuclear power: the new government’s three areas of work

The new government that will carry out the energy policy for the upcoming years has been recently announced. It includes now a Ministry of Energy Transition, entrusted to Agnès Pannier-Reacher. Among the projects, the program for building 6 to 14 EPRs, intending to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050.

On May the 20th, the new government was announced. Among the 27 members who compose it, three women will preside over the destiny of French energy policy. The prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, the Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion, Amélie de Montchalin (on the left in the photo), and the Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher (on the right in the photo). They will have to implement the ambitions of Emmanuel Macron’s Belfort speech last February.

The energy planning program for 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality. It aims at a massive development of renewables energies, via a tenfold increase in our solar power and the installation of 50 offshore wind farms. The President has also announced the construction of six EPR 2 nuclear reactors and studies for eight additional units. In order to achieve this last point, several files are on the ministers’ desk:

  • Public consultations and debates: The new nuclear program should begin with building two EPR2 reactors in Penly. One of the prerequisites for this project is a public debate organized by the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP). Upstream, a national consultation on the energy system of the future should emerge during the second half of 2022. The conditions of this debate are the subject of a report by the CNDP. A report to which Sfen has responded. In addition to being a necessary step for the revival of the atom, these exercises in participatory democracy will feed into the work of future parliamentarians.
  • Revising the multi-annual energy program (PPE): In 2023, the government will have to pass the first-ever energy and climate program law (LPEC), which will have to set the major objectives of the national low-carbon strategy (SNBC). This will also allow the revision of the current Multiannual Energy Program (PPE). The last one provided for the closure of 14 nuclear reactors by 2035 (including the two units already shut down at Fessenheim). However, in his speech, last February, the President of the Republic expressed the wish that “no reactor should be closed in the future, except for safety reasons”. The framework law will also aim to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030.
  • Optimizing the preparatory phases: Finally, the next government will have to find solutions to optimize the construction time of low-carbon energy projects. For building a nuclear power plant, the start of the preparatory work is the most critical stage in terms of planning. Between the investment decision and the first concrete, there is a four-year delay for identified sites. For example, there could be an optimization made between the building permit and the application for building permission. The former takes 15 months and the latter 3 years. Launching a simultaneous and not sequenced application would save a lot of time for civil engineering.

Handover of ministry 

During the handover ceremony, the new Minister for Energy Transition reasserted the importance of nuclear power for the decarbonization of the economy and the reindustrialization of the country. She said: “Our ambition is also unparalleled for our nuclear industry. We need to optimize our existing fleet while launching a major construction program for six new reactors. Because in the face of the climate emergency, we have to say it straight out, nuclear power is an opportunity for our country. It is an opportunity for Europe. And all those who say otherwise are sorcerers’ apprentices who are endangering our future.

Published on 31 May 2022

Copyright : Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP