To have even more nuclear energy in France?

Not very satisfied with the fate reserved for the atom – which nonetheless benefits from a presidential boost – an association representing the sector imagines a scenario in its favour. Ready to exit the regulatory framework, recommends increasing the current nuclear fleet from 60 GW to 90 GW in 2050. Ambitious or unrealistic?

While Industry Week is being held, there is one that blows hot and cold: that of civilian nuclear power. On the one hand, the sector had already been put into “standby” mode after the 2011 Fukushima accident and the vote on the 2015 law limiting installed nuclear power to 63.2 GW in France and aiming for production at 50% in the electric mix. It is currently battered by an electricity generation fleet which is accumulating maintenance delays and repair operations, jeopardizing this winter’s electricity supply. Instead, he is praised by President Macron who announces his intention to start the construction of six new EPR2 reactors. Although the public debate on this nuclear program is still ongoing and the first EPR in Flamanville is not yet operational, the presidential announcement represents a real breath of fresh air for the industry.

But for the association The voices of nuclear power, this bright future potential is not enough. He wants more ambition for the atomic sector and has published another vision in this sense, contrary to 100% renewable scenarios or even those aiming for a 50% nuclear share. Like its founder and president, Myrto Tripathi, the association strongly wants to rehabilitate nuclear energy and cuts to the heart by claiming a more militant position than industrial players*.

100 GW of nuclear power in 2070

Even though its promoters claim to be making choices that avoid many pitfalls, this pro-nuclear scenario, called TerraWater, is based on at least three very ambitious bets.
Firstly, it assumes a very strong electrification of uses in France. This option is certainly in almost any energy transition scenario, but rarely at the level that The Voices of Nuclear envisions it. According to it, electricity consumption should go from 480 TWh in 2021 to 792 TWh in 2050. To avoid severe constraints on sobriety and energy efficiency for the population, the association believes it is preferable to let go of:

  • to industry, with an increase from 115 to 280 TWh of electricity per year, of which only 25 TWh for hydrogen;
  • road transport, going from almost nothing today to 110 TWh in 2050, of which 75 TWh for light mobility and 35 TWh for heavy mobility (through the electrification of motorways by catenaries!);
  • electric heating, limited thanks to a gain of only 30% from the renovation of the buildings, which would be provided by 63 TWh of heat pumps and 23 TWh of resistive devices; and domestic hot water and food cooking, which are completely electrified and will consume 60 TWh and 23 TWh respectively by 2050. All gas/methane solutions for these uses have been eliminated.

This decision to consume electricity at all costs – even low carbon – is very surprising in a world where the need to reduce the ecological footprint (materials, waste including radioactive waste, water resources, etc.) requires us to leave this hyper – consumerist model.

Evolution of electricity production in TerraWater.
In the TerraWater scenario, production is sized to always be slightly higher than consumption. The peak production (1 TWh in 2041) provided by biomass combustion turbines is not visible in this graph. Source: Nuclear Rumors.

The second bet, as the pro-nuclear orientation of the association suggests, is to strongly consolidate the use of the atom. So much so that her appetite for fission technologies resembles bulimia. Imagine that the nuclear sector would be able to push existing reactors past 60 years, build 26 EPR2s, and then install more than 50 GW of reactors of other technologies (generation IV, SMR, etc.). Never seen ! Thus, 29 of the 56 existing reactors would be at least 70 years old, making it necessary to manage the risks associated with vessel aging and to replace primary loop boiler components, such as the steam generator, at least once. For EPR2 (whose project is not finalized), the three pairs of reactors envisaged by EDF would be built between 2026 and 2041, and from 2035 to 2050 a construction program of two reactors per year would take over. 90 GW of nuclear power in 2050 and 100 GW in 2070 (see chart below). It is by no means certain that the nuclear industry is capable of ensuring such a pace of construction. And at what cost? Terrawater doesn’t say it, but according to a report that estimates the cost of the first six EPR2s at over 51 billion euros, that’s no less than 215 billion euros that would need to be invested in total for the EPRs alone. Despite all these efforts to significantly increase the nuclear fleet, its share would never exceed 70% of all electricity generation. All this for this…

TerraWater, evolution of the nuclear fleet
Source: The voices of nuclear power

What place for renewable energies?

TerraWater’s third bet is that of renewable energies. One technology is particularly promoted: Pumped Energy Transfer Stations (Step). To the 5 GW currently in operation would be added 42 GW of these plants which require the construction of two basins between which the water circulates. Again, unheard of, because no Step has been built in France since the 1980s. And the delays are long: the recent construction of one of the most powerful Steps in Europe (0.9 GW) in Switzerland at Nant-de-Drance is duration of more than 10 years… Of course, these steps would make energy storage possible (8 TWh of reversible capacity according to nuclear rumors) and could be installed in part on existing hydroelectric sites. But, the association acknowledges, this will require an adaptation of the uses of water basins and will require the mobilization of around 250 km² of land (Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne) and the expropriation of 12,000 people. A great challenge of social acceptability!

For the rest, TerraWater counts on 55 GW of solar PV in 2050 and 35 GW of onshore wind, much less than in all the other scenarios (RTE, Ademe and negaWatt), as well as 22.5 GW of offshore wind, i.e. at same level as scenarios N03 of RTE and nuclear S2-S3 of Ademe. Agrifuels and biogas are underdeveloped and mostly reserved for sea and air transport. Furthermore, the energy from wood – reduced to private individuals – would be destined for combustion turbines to meet peak electrical needs: with 20 GW envisaged in the scenario, around a hundred plants would be put into service between 2027 and 2034 from 200 MW! Another challenge, not to mention that burning biomass for this type of turbine poses clogging issues. Ultimately, this also means that a heavily nuclearized production fleet would need this thermal “suspension”, criticism usually made at the 100% renewable scenario…

In light of all these ambitious, even disproportionate bets, it seems that the TerraWater scenario is not realistic.

* Industrial operators such as Orano and Framatome, all the same very happy to finance Voices of nuclear power this year for 100,000 euros.

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