Nuclear power in France


Nuclear power in France
Nuclear power in France is located in France
Belleville
Cadarache
Creys-Malville
Fessenheim
Gravelines
Marcoule        
Saint-Alban
Nuclear power plants in France (view)
Red pog.svg Active plants
Purple pog.svg Closed plants
Electricity production in France has been dominated by Nuclear power ever since the early 80s with a large portion of that power exported today.
  thermofossil
  hydroelectric
  nuclear
  Other renewables

Nuclear power is the primary source of electric power in France. In 2004, 425.8 TWh out of the country's total production of 540.6 TWh of electricity was from nuclear power (78.8%), the highest percentage in the world.[1]

France is also the world's largest net exporter of electric power, exporting 18% of its total production (about 100 TWh) to Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and Germany, and its electricity cost is among the lowest in Europe.[1][2] France's nuclear power industry has been called "a success story" that has put the nation "ahead of the world" in terms of providing cheap, CO2-free energy.[3] However, France's nuclear reactors are mainly used in load-following mode and some reactors close on weekends because there is no market for the electricity.[4][5] This means that the capacity factor is low by world standards, which is not an ideal economic situation for nuclear plants.[4]

As of 2002, Électricité de France (EDF) — the country's main electricity generation and distribution company — manages the country's 59 nuclear power plants. As of 2008, these plants produce 90% of EDF's and about 78% France's electrical power production (of which some is exported),[4] making EDF the world leader in production of nuclear power by percentage.

In 2006, the French Government asked Areva and EDF to build a next generation nuclear reactor, the EPR (European Pressurized Reactor), at the Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant. This was followed in 2008 by a Presidential announcement of another new EPR, spurred by high oil and gas prices.[6] The second French EPR reactor will be built in Penly. Construction work should start in 2012 and completion is scheduled for 2017.[7]

Following the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents, in a letter dated March 23, Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the Nuclear Safety Authority to carry out an 'open and transparent' audit each of its nuclear installations, looking at the risks of flood, earthquake, loss of power and cooling, and accident management processes, in order to identify any improvements that should be made in the light of lessons learned from Fukushima. The initial conclusions are expected by the end of 2011.[8] France conducted a more limited review following flooding at its Blayais Nuclear Power Plant in 1999.

Contents

History

France has a long relationship with nuclear power, starting with Henri Becquerel's discovery of natural radioactivity in the 1890s and continued by famous nuclear scientists like Pierre and Marie Curie.

Before World War II, France had been heavily involved in nuclear research through the work of the Joliot-Curies. In 1945 the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) created the Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique (CEA) governmental agency, and Nobel prize winner Frédéric Joliot-Curie, member of the French Communist Party (PCF) since 1942, was appointed high-commissioner. He was relieved of his duties in 1950 for political reasons, and would be one of the 11 signatories to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto in 1955. The CEA was created by Charles de Gaulle on October 18, 1945. Its mandate is to conduct fundamental and applied research into many areas, including the design of nuclear reactors, the manufacturing of integrated circuits, the use of radionucleides for medical treatments, seismology and tsunami propagation, and the safety of computerized systems.

Nuclear research was discontinued for a time after the war because of the instability of the Fourth Republic and the lack of finances available.[9] However, in the 1950s a civil nuclear research program was started, a by-product of which would be plutonium. In 1956 a secret Committee for the Military Applications of Atomic Energy was formed and a development program for delivery vehicles started. In 1957, soon after the Suez Crisis and the diplomatic tension with both the USSR and the United States, French president René Coty decided the creation of the C.S.E.M. in the then French Sahara, a new nuclear tests facility replacing the C.I.E.E.S.[10] See France and nuclear weapons.

The first nuclear power plant in France was opened in 1963.[11]

Messmer Plan

As a direct result of the 1973 oil crisis, on March 6, 1974 Prime Minister Pierre Messmer unexpectedly announced what became known as the 'Messmer Plan', a huge nuclear power program aimed at generating all of France's electricity from nuclear power.[11] At the time of the oil crisis most of France's electricity came from foreign oil, and while it was strong in heavy engineering capabilities, France had few indigenous energy resources,[2]

The announcement of the Messmer Plan, which was imposed without public or parliamentary debate,[12][13] also led to the foundation of the Groupement des scientifiques pour l'information sur l'énergie nucléaire (Association of Scientists for Information on Nuclear Energy), formed after around 4,000 scientists signed a petition of concern over the government's action, known as the Appeal of the 400 after the 400 scientists who initially signed it.[12]

The plan envisaged the construction of around 80 nuclear plants by 1985 and a total of 170 plants by 2000.[12] Work on the first three plants, at Tricastin, Gravelines, and Dampierre started the same year[11] and France installed 56 reactors over the next 15 years.[14]

Recent developments

In 2001, Areva, was created by the merger of CEA Industrie, Framatome and Cogema (now Areva NC). Its main shareholder is the French owned company CEA, but the German government also holds, through Siemens, 34% of the shares of Areva's subsidiary, Areva NP, in charge of building the EPR (third-generation nuclear reactor).[15]

Technical overview

Drawing such a large percentage of overall electrical production from nuclear power is unique to France. This reliance has resulted in certain necessary deviations from the standard design and function of other nuclear power programs. For instance, in order to meet changing demand throughout the day, some plants must work as peaking power plant, whereas most nuclear plants in the world operate as base load plants, and allow other fossil or hydro units to adjust to demand. Nuclear power in France has a total capacity factor of around 77%, which is low due to load following. However availability is around 84%, indicating excellent overall performance of the plants.

The first 8 power reactors in the nation were gas cooled reactor types (UNGG reactor), whose development was pioneered by CEA. Coinciding with a uranium enrichment program, EdF developed pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology which eventually became the dominant type. The gas-cooled reactors located at Brennilis, Bugey, Chinon, and Marcoule have all been shut down.

All operating plants today are PWRs with the exception of the Phénix, which was part of an initiative to develop sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor technology. The Superphénix, a larger, more ambitious version, has been shut down.

The PWR plants were all developed by Framatome (which is now Areva) from the initial Westinghouse design[citation needed]. All of the PWR plants are one of three variations of the design, having output powers of 900 MWe, 1300 MWe, and 1450 MWe. The repeated use of these standard variants of a design has afforded France the greatest degree of nuclear plant standardization in the world.

900 MWe class (CP0, CP1 and CP2 designs)

The Saint-Laurent site, showing two CP2, 900MWe class reactors and the cooling tower on the right

There are a total of 34 of these reactors in operation; most were constructed in the 1970s and the early 1980s. In 2002 they had a uniform review and all were granted a 10 year life extension.

With the CP0 and CP1 designs, two reactors share the same machine and command room. With the CP2 design, each reactor has its own machine and command room. Despite this difference, CP1 and CP2 types use the same technologies (the two types are frequently referred as CPY). Compared to CP0 they have an additional cooling circuit between the emergency system that allows to spraying water into the containment in case of an accident and the circuit which contains river's water, a more flexible control system and some minor difference in the layout of the building.[16]

This three loop design (three steam generators and three primary circulation pumps) was also exported to a number of other countries, including:

1300 MWe class (P4 and P'4 designs)

The Cattenom site houses four 1300 MWe class reactors

There are 20 reactors of this design (four steam generators and four primary circulation pumps) operating in France. The P4 and P'4 type have some minor difference in the layout of the building, especially for the structure which contain the fuel rods and the circuitry.[16]

1450 MWe class (N4 design)

The Civaux site houses two 1450 MWe class reactors, the most recent design operating today

There are only 4 of these reactors, housed at two separate sites: Civaux and Chooz. Construction of these reactors started between 1984 and 1991, but full commercial operation did not begin until between 2000 and 2002 because of thermal fatigue flaws in the heat removal system requiring the redesign and replacement of parts in each N4 power station.[18] In 2003 the stations were all uprated to 1500 MWe. It is unlikely that more of this class will be built because it is expected to be succeeded by the larger 1650 MWe EPR design.

1750MWe class (EPR design)

The next generation design for French reactors will be the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), which will have a broader scope than France alone, with a pilot plant in Finland undergoing construction and with marketing activities extending to the United States and China. The first French EPR is under construction at the Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant, and should be operational in 2014. The second French EPR reactor will be built at the Penly Nuclear Power Plant, with construction starting in 2012 and completion scheduled for 2017.[19]

This reactor is one of the newest reactor designs in the world. It was developed by Areva contributing its N4 reactor technology and the German company Siemens contributing its Konvoi reactor technology. In keeping with the French approach of highly standardized plants and proven technology, it uses more traditional active safety systems and is more similar to current plant designs than international competitors such as the AP1000 or the ESBWR.

In 2005 EdF announced plans to replace the current nuclear plants with new 1600 MWe units as they reach the end of their licensed life, starting around 2020.[citation needed] This decision confirms that France is planning to continue indefinitely using nuclear power as its primary electricity source. In order to replace the current 58 reactors, one new large unit will have to be built about every year for about 40 years.

Fusion reactors

While fusion power is not expected to be feasible for many more decades, France has shown promise to be a forerunner in the technology by winning the bid to host the ITER reactor in Cadarache.[20] The ITER should start actual fusion around 2018. However, ITER does not plan to generate any commercially available energy. Instead the construction of another plant, named DEMO, will test the feasibility of commercial Fusion, before they are added to the energy supply.

Cooling

The majority of nuclear plants in France are located away from the coasts and obtain their cooling water from rivers. These plants employ cooling towers to reduce their impact on the environment. The temperature of emitted water carrying the waste heat is strictly limited by the French government, and this has proved to be problematic during recent heat waves.[21]

4 plants, equalling 14 reactors are located on the coast:

These 4 get their cooling water directly from the ocean and can thus dump their waste heat directly back into the sea, which is slightly more economical.

Fuel cycle

Active work going on for the ultimate underground repository.

France is one of the few countries in the world with an active nuclear reprocessing program, with the COGEMA La Hague site. Enrichment work, some MOX fuel fabrication, and other activities take place at the Tricastin Nuclear Power Centre. Enrichment is completely domestic and is powered by 2/3 of the output of the nuclear plant at Tricastin. Reprocessing of fuel from other countries has been done for the United States and Japan, who have expressed the desire to develop a more closed fuel cycle similar to what France has achieved. MOX fuel fabrication services have also been sold to other countries, notably to the USA for the Megatons to Megawatts Program, using Plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons.

While France does not mine Uranium for the front end of the fuel cycle domestically, French companies have various holdings in the Uranium market. Uranium for the French program totals 10,500 tonnes per year coming from various locations such as:

  • Canada - 4500 tU/yr
  • Niger - 3200 tU/yr

Final disposal of the high level nuclear waste is planned to be done at the Meuse/Haute Marne Underground Research Laboratory deep geological repository.

Accidents and incidents

Nuclear power accidents in France[22][23]
Date Location Description Cost
(in millions
2006 US$)
17 October 1969 Saint-Laurent, France 50 kg of Uranium in one of the reactors at the Saint-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant began to melt, an event classified at 'level 4' on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).[24] As of March 2011, this remains the most serious civil nuclear power accident in France.[25]  ?
25 July 1979 Saclay, France Radioactive fluids escape into drains designed for ordinary wastes, seeping into the local watershed at the Saclay BL3 Reactor 5
13 March 1980 Loir-et-Cher, France A malfunctioning cooling system fuses fuel elements together at the Saint Laurent A2 reactor, ruining the fuel assembly and forcing an extended shutdown 22
14 April 1984 Bugey, France Electrical cables fail at the command centre of the Bugey Nuclear Power Plant and force a complete shutdown of one reactor 2
22 May 1986 Normandy, France A reprocessing plant at La Hague malfunctions and exposes workers to unsafe levels of radiation and forces five to be hospitalised 5
12 April 1987 Tricastin, France Tricastin fast breeder reactor leaks coolant, sodium and uranium hexachloride, injuring seven workers and contaminating water supplies 50
27 December 1999 Blayais, France An unexpectedly strong storm floods the Blayais Nuclear Power Plant, forcing an emergency shutdown after injection pumps and containment safety systems fail from water damage 55
21 January 2002 Manche, France Control systems and safety valves fail after improper installation of condensers, forcing a two-month shutdown 102
16 May 2005 Lorraine, France Sub-standard electrical cables at the Cattenom-2 nuclear reactor cause a fire in an electricity tunnel, damaging safety systems 12
13 July 2008 Tricastin, France 75 kg of natural uranium, in thousands of litres of solution, accidentally spilled on the ground and run off into a nearby river 7
12 August 2009 Gravelines, France Assembly system fails to properly eject spent fuel rods from the Gravelines Nuclear Power Plant, causing the fuel rods to jam and the reactor to shut down 2
12 September 2011 Marcoule, France One person has been killed and four injured, one seriously, in a blast at the Marcoule Nuclear Site. The explosion took place in a furnace used to melt “low to very low grade” metallic waste, a spokesman for the safety authority said, and did not represent a nuclear accident  ?

In July 2008, 18,000 litres (4,755 gallons) of uranium solution containing natural uranium were accidentally released from Tricastin Nuclear Power Centre. Due to cleaning and repair work the containment system for a uranium solution holding tank was not functional when the tank filled. The inflow exceeded the tank's capacity and 30 cubic metres of uranium solution leaked, with 18 cubic metres spilled on the ground. Testing found elevated uranium levels in the nearby Gaffière and Lauzon rivers. The liquid that escaped to the ground contained about 75 kg of natural uranium, which is toxic as a heavy metal, but only slightly radioactive. Estimates for the releases were initially higher, up to 360 kg of natural uranium, but revised downward later.[26] French authorities banned the use of water from the Gaffière and Lauzon for drinking and watering of crops for 2 weeks. Swimming, water sports and fishing were also banned. This incident has been classified as Level 1 (anomaly) on the International Nuclear Event Scale.[27]

Shortly after the first incident, approximately 100 employees were exposed to minor doses of radiation (1/40 of the annual limit) due to a piping failure.[28]

Limitations

France's nuclear reactors comprise 90 per cent of EDFs capacity and so they are used in load-following mode and some reactors close at weekends because there is no market for the electricity.[4][5] This means that the capacity factor is low by world standards, usually in the high seventies as a percentage. This is not an ideal economic situation for nuclear plants, but is required due to the load-following nature of some reactors.[4]

During periods of high demand EDF has been routinely "forced into the relatively expensive spot and short-term power markets because it lacks adequate peak load generating capacity".[5]

All but four of EDFs plants are inland and require fresh water for cooling. Eleven of these 15 inland plants have cooling towers, using evaporative cooling, while the others use lake or river water directly. So in very hot summers, generation output may be restricted.[4]

According to Stephanie Cooke, nuclear power in France has not reduced the country's dependence on oil, as about 70 per cent of the total energy consumed in France during 2006 was still from fossil fuels.[5]

Another critique of the French situation is that it has over-invested in nuclear, which has meant that electricity has been exported to other countries or "dumped" on the French market, encouraging the use of electricity for space heating and water heating. This can be regarded as an environmentally wasteful practice.[4]

Seismicity

The location of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant in the Rhine Rift Valley near the fault that caused the 1356 Basel earthquake is causing concern.

Following the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents there has been an increased focus on the risks associated with seismic activity in France, with particular attention focused on the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant.

General seismic risk in France is categorised on a five-point scale, with zone 1 being very low risk, through to zone 5 in areas with a 'very strong' risk.[29] In Metropolitan France the areas of highest risk are rated at 4, 'strong', and are located in the Pyrenees, Alps, the south of the Haut-Rhin département, the Territoire de Belfort and a few communes in Doubs.[29] A new zoning map comes into force on May 1, 2011, which significantly increases the rating for many areas.[29] The major nuclear research facilities at Cadarache are located in a zone 4 area near the fault that caused the 1909 Lambesc earthquake, while the Marcoule research centre and the nuclear power plants at Tricastin, Cruas, Saint-Alban, Bugey and Fessenheim (near the fault that caused the 1356 Basel earthquake) are all within zone 3.[30] A further 6 plants lie within zone 2.[30]

Hazard evaluation

The current process for evaluating the seismic hazard for a nuclear plant is set out in Règle Fondamentale de Sûreté (Fundamental Safety Rule) RFS 2001-01, published by the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety, which uses more detailed seismotectonic zones.[31] RFS 2001-01 replaced RFS I.2.c, published in 1981, however it has been criticised for continuing to require a deterministic assessment (rather than a probabilistic approach) that relies primarily on the strongest 'historically known' earthquake near a site.[32] This leads to a number of problems including the short period (in geological timescales) for which there are records, the difficulty of assessing the characteristics of earthquakes that occurred prior to the use of seismometers, the difficulty of identifying the existence of all earthquakes that pre-date the historic record, and ultimately the reliance on one single earthquake scenario.[32] Other criticisms include the use of intensity in the evaluation method, rather than spectral acceleration, which is commonly used elsewhere.[32]

Public opinion

Protest against new French nuclear plants (March 2007)

Following the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents an OpinionWay poll at the end of March found that 57% of the French population were opposed to nuclear energy in France.[33] A TNS-Sofres poll in the days following the accident found 55% in favour of nuclear power.[33] In 2006 BBC / GlobeScan poll found 57% of the French opposed to nuclear energy.[34]

In May 2001, an Ipsos poll found that nearly 70% of the population had a 'good opinion' of nuclear power, however 56% also preferred not to live near a nuclear plant and the same proportion thought that a 'Chernobyl-like accident' could occur in France.[35] The same Ipsos poll revealed that 50% thought that nuclear power was the best way of solving the problem of the greenhouse effect, while 88% thought this was a major reason for continuing to use nuclear power.[35]

Historically the position has generally been favourable, with around two thirds of the population strongly supporting nuclear power,[14][36] while the Gaullists, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party were also all in favour.

When the Civaux Nuclear Power Plant was being constructed in 1997, it was claimed to be welcomed by the local community:

In France, unlike in America, nuclear energy is accepted, even popular. Everybody I spoke to in Civaux loves the fact their region was chosen. The nuclear plant has brought jobs and prosperity to the area. Nobody I spoke to, nobody, expressed any fear.[14]

A variety of reasons were cited for the popular support; a sense of national independence and reduced reliance on foreign oil, reduction of greenhouse gases, and a cultural interest in large technological projects (like the TGV and Concorde).[14]

Anti-nuclear movement

In the 1970s, an anti-nuclear movement in France, consisting of citizens' groups and political action committees, emerged. Between 1975 and 1977, some 175,000 people protested against nuclear power in ten demonstrations.[37]

In January 2004, up to 15,000 anti-nuclear protesters marched in Paris against a new generation of nuclear reactors, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR).[38] On March 17 2007, simultaneous protests, organised by Sortir du nucléaire, were staged in 5 French towns to protest construction of EPR plants.[39][40]

After Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, thousands staged anti-nuclear protests around France, demanding reactors be closed. Protesters' demands were focused on getting France to shut its oldest nuclear power station at Fessenheim. Many people also protested at the Cattenom nuclear plant, France's second most powerful.[41]

In November 2011, a French court fined nuclear power giant Électricité de France €1.5m and jailed two senior employees for spying on Greenpeace, including hacking into Greenpeace's computer systems. Greenpeace was awarded €500,000 in damages.[42]

Environmental impact

In 2007 Areva NC claimed that, due to their reliance on nuclear power, France's carbon emissions per kWh are less than 1/10 that of Germany and the UK, and 1/13 that of Denmark, which has no nuclear plants. Its emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide have been reduced by 70% over 20 years, even though the total power output has tripled in that time.[43]

French environmentalist Bruno Comby started the group Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy in 1996, and said in 2005, "If well-managed, nuclear energy is very clean, does not create polluting gases in the atmosphere, produces very little waste and does not contribute to the greenhouse effect".[44]

See also

Companies

References

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