The government presented its bill this morning to speed up nuclear power. In a context of energy crisis, the text provides for the commissioning of six EPR2 reactors by 2035 but above all wishes to facilitate the administrative procedures prior to their construction.
The Borne government is sticking to its nuclear calendar. A little over a month after the bill to accelerate renewable energies which is currently being examined in the Senate, it was the turn of the one dedicated to the atom to be presented to the Council of Ministers this Wednesday.
Unsurprisingly, it contains the various directives given by Emmanuel Macron on French nuclear strategy during his visit to Belfort last February and which the President of the Republic had recalled more recently on the sidelines of the inauguration of the first Hexagone off-shore wind farm in Saint-Nazaire. BFM Business takes stock of this text called “EPR2 Project”.
• What are the objectives of the bill?
Like its counterpart on renewable energy, the nuclear acceleration bill is part of the government’s ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
“If we want both to have energy independence but also to meet our climate objectives, we must replace fossil fuels with low carbon energies. Nuclear energy is today the lowest carbon energy of all the solutions we have. “, explained last Friday the Minister of Energy Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher during her visit to the nuclear power plant of Chinon (Indre-et-Loire).
In parallel with the development of renewable energies, solar and offshore wind, France therefore plans to act on nuclear power to achieve this objective. To do this, six EPR 2 reactors will be built. The first pair of EPR 2 will emerge in Penly (Seine-Maritime) and its first stone could be laid before the end of Emmanuel Macron’s mandate for a desired commissioning in 2035 at the latest. The other two pairs will be in Graveline (North) and probably in the Rhône Valley, in Bugey or Tricastin, and should be operational around 2038 and 2042 respectively.
“EDF is maneuvering, we will try to make the most ambitious schedule possible”, indicates the cabinet of Agnès Pannier-Runacher, who specifies that the Penly construction site will begin in 2023.
The public debate on these three pairs of reactors is already underway. In the longer term, eight additional EPR2s could come out of the ground in accordance with the wishes of the President of the Republic. Preliminary work is currently being carried out to study the potential locations but also the problem of water sources. The Ministry of Energy Transition reports a “craze” of several sites, to volunteer and accommodate these new infrastructures as part of this second part of EPR2.
• How does Bill want to “speed up”?
Agnès Pannier-Runacher said it herself this Wednesday morning at the microphone of France Inter: “This text is about administrative procedures, it is not about how many EPRs in our energy mix in 2050.” In summary, the government wants to deploy the EPR2 project as quickly as possible and save several years on the implementation of future new generation reactors thanks to procedural improvements.
In order to go faster, several axes are mentioned. First of all, it is a question of reducing the number of authorization procedures to ensure that a single administrative decision is necessary and not a succession of decisions as is still the case today. The government also wants to speed up the expropriation of fallow land and other sites not used by owners that are in close proximity to the future location of the EPR2s. The Ministry of Energy Transition adds that no expropriation of housing will take place.
Finally, the executive hopes to start part of the work without even waiting for the issuance of the authorization, as soon as the environmental component is validated. This would then be preliminary work such as the earthworks prior to the office buildings that will surround the future reactors.
It is in this logic of facilitation that the new reactors will be placed on sites already hosting nuclear infrastructures and this for two reasons, as explained by the cabinet of Agnès Pannier-Runacher a few weeks ago: “First convenience, because they will be easy to connect as the current is already present and then for the land, because EDF had already planned land reserves in the 1970s.
• Is there an environmental and democratic risk?
Several players are expressing fears about a nuclear strategy that could override or neglect certain steps in its objective of speed of execution. The director general of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) had pointed to a “parody of consultation” concerning the various construction projects.
The Ministry of Energy Transition is renewing its desire to ensure public participation in the debate, to guarantee the protection of biodiversity around the sites, but also to evade security-related issues. “The bill will not affect the depth of analysis of the ASN (Nuclear Safety Authority) safety framework”, indicated the minister’s office a few weeks ago.
Still, the National Council for Energy Transition (CNTE), which brings together trade unions, employers, and even NGOs, “regretted the insufficient time” given to it to decide on the text of which it has been aware since September 26. The body thus underlined that the bill “cannot prejudge the conclusions of public cebat” when it is presented to the Council of Ministers.
• What is the legislative timetable?
A public debate, constituting a legal obligation for EDF, will allow the French to express themselves on the construction of the six EPRs until February 27. Previously, the government is organizing another consultation, digital and broader, on energy until the end of the year. The 2050 scenarios of the RTE network manager and Ademe, which envisage a variable share of nuclear power, could serve as a basis for these two processes.
“This is the first time that we have had such a wide consultation and that we have asked the questions in such a clear way: how much we consume in 2050, what energy mix we want and how we finance it”, insisted Agnès Pannier- Runacher, mentioning the figure of 7000 contributions already received on the government site.
Regarding the legislative review of the text, the government remains on the basis of the first weeks of 2023 for a passage to the National Assembly so that the various provisions of the bill take effect during the second half of next year. .