France’s Nuclear Policy Council (CPN - Conseil de Politique Nucléaire), chaired on by President Emmanuel Macron, has selected the Bugey NPP in Ain for the construction of two next-generation EPR2 reactors. Earlier it was decided that the Penly NPP in Normandy and Gravelines in Hauts-de-France would also each host two EPR2s.

Macron in February 2022 announced plans to renew the French nuclear fleet, with six new reactors (EPR2s) for commissioning by 2035 with an option for eight more or the late 2040s. The cost of the project total €52bn ($57.6bn) according to initial estimates. An update of this assessment is in progress. The conclusions of the programme review on the costs and design of the first six EPR2s are expected "by the end of summer, beginning of autumn", according to the office of Minister for Energy Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

In May 2021, EDF submitted to the State a proposal for the construction of the new EPR2 reactor programme in France. It proposed construction of three pairs of EPR2 reactors, in order, at Penly, Gravelines and at either Bugey or Tricastin.

During a visit to the Bugey site following the CPN meeting, Pannier-Runacher explained that the choice of the site was based on “technical issues” to “maintain schedules”. The Bugey site was favoured over the Tricastin NPP, also under consideration, because it would be possible “to launch construction as quickly as additional studies need to be carried out on the Tricastin site”, Pannier-Runacher’s office stated, adding that it was “a rational choice to keep the schedules as tight as possible".

However, studies are continuing and the Tricastin site could later accommodate additional reactors, according to the Élysée statement on the CPN meeting. “Technical studies and analyses will continue on the Tricastin site with a view to hosting future nuclear reactors.” It noted. For the time being, EDF has not provided the government with the list of potential sites for the additional eight EPR2s. "The studies are still in progress, we are at the very beginning of this process led by EDF, a Pannier-Runacher’s office said.

As to the possibility of constructing an EPR2 at the industrial basin of Fos-sur-Mer, mentioned by Macron during a recent trip to Marseille, this reflects a wish to “match" the future of the nuclear fleet "with the needs of our industry", the cabinet noted. It is also the expression of the wish “to look openly at future locations for the park beyond the six EPRs”. In other words, the government does not want limit possible sites to those that already have NPPs.

The CPN also decided to “significantly increase the number of staff and renew the research facilities of the civil nuclear branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, which will play a central role in coordinating and steering research”. This “will make it possible both to attract new talent and to strengthen research in this area of ??excellence to cover all the subjects necessary for the extension of the fleet by guaranteeing a high level of safety in their operation, at the mastery of the fuel cycle, to the construction of new power plants, whether EPR2 or small innovative reactors”. In addition, the post of High Commissioner for Atomic Energy “will now be attached to the Prime Minister”.

The CPN gave a progress report on the implementation of the EPR2 programme, after promulgation of the law relating to the acceleration of procedures linked to the construction of new nuclear installations. “The various implementing texts for this law are being deployed in order to meet the schedule for the start of work in Penly by 2025,” it said. With the selection of Bugey, “the locations for the first phase of the EPR2 construction programme has now been decided.”

EDF says it is "engaged in the authorisation procedures required for the launch of the construction of the first pair of EPR2 reactors at Penly, as well as the administrative procedures for its completion and its link-up to the electricity grid". It is hoping to start preparatory work for the new Penly reactors in mid-2024.

The first unit of the third pair of EPR2s is expected to start up in 2042 on the Bugey site, according to the French nuclear society, SFEN (Société française d'énergie nucléaire). The new nuclear reactor construction programme in France is taking shape, SFEN said, noting that EDF has recently submitted its construction authorisation request for the construction of two EPR2s at Penly while the second pair of reactors is planned at Gravelines.

However, there has been some opposition to the Bugey plans from the Metropolis and the City of Lyon as well as from environmentalists. Bruno Bernard, President of the Metropolis of Lyon and Grégory Doucet, Mayor of the City earlier co-signed a letter addressed to Pannier-Runacher opposing the project on safety grounds and stressing the need to protect the waters of the Rhône, which are used for cooling the Bugey plant. Bernard told La Tribune that “90% of our drinking water resources depend on the Rhône…. There are different predictions, but overall we are talking about 30% reduction in the flow of the Rhône in 2050. Adding a new EPR in Bugey to these difficulties is not acceptable.”

SFEN acknowledged that unlike Penly and Gravelines, which are near the sea, the Bugey site is located on the banks of the river. “Access to the cold spring must be closely observed in a context of global warming and increased occurrences of drought in France. Due to climate change, some are already warning about the lack of water in the Rhône in the years to come to ensure cooling. In reality, this risk is relatively low, SFEN said.

On the Bugey site, there are already four 900 MWe reactors, two in open cycle, two in closed cycle. Currently, the net water withdrawal of the plant represents between 0.1% and 0.3% of the flow of the Rhône depending on the month, SFEN explained. EDF, anticipated the impact of the presence of two EPR2s which would consume less than 1% of the river flow.

EDF and Framatome are developing the EPR2 as a simplified version of the EPR design based on design, construction and commissioning experience feedback from the EPR reactors under construction in France (Flamanville), Finland (Olkiluoto) and the UK (Hinkley Point C) as well as those operating in China at the Taishan NPP. France’s state audit office says EDF must ensure the financing and profitability of the proposed EPR2 reactor before starting any construction in France.

Image (top left): The Bugey nuclear power plant site (courtesy of EDF)

Image (right): Pannier-Runacher visiting Bugey (courtesy of SFEN)

Date: Friday, 28 July 2023
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