In a televised address Tuesday evening, French president Emmanuel Macron announced his government’s intention to build new large nuclear reactors in France to address growing energy and environmental challenges.
“If we want to pay for our energy at reasonable rates and not depend on foreign countries, we must both continue to save energy and invest in the production of carbon-free energy on our soil,” said Macron. “This is why, to guarantee France’s energy independence, to guarantee our country’s electricity supply, and to reach our goals—notably carbon neutrality in 2050—we will for the first time in decades revive the construction of nuclear reactors in our country and continue to develop renewable energy. These investments will allow us to live up to our commitments. As we close COP26 in Glasgow, this is a strong message from France.”
Enter EDF: While the speech contained no specifics on the reactor construction relaunch, French utility giant Électricité de France had made clear the previous day that it is prepared to build third-generation EPR reactors should the government decide to order them. At a Monday press conference, the company’s general delegate for industrial quality and nuclear skills, Alain Tranzer, declared, “The nuclear industry is transforming and will stand ready.” (A long history of cost overruns and delays with new reactors at Flamanville [in France] and Olkiluoto [in Finland] has raised questions regarding the company’s ability to deliver on nuclear projects.)
In case you missed it: Macron’s comments Tuesday weren’t his first strong endorsement of nuclear. In October, announcing the France 2030 plan for re-industrialization, he described nuclear power as “absolutely key” to France’s future and announced €1 billion (about $1.15 billion) in funding to demonstrate small modular reactor technology. The France 2030 plan also calls for the mass production of hydrogen with nuclear energy. Hydrogen, said Macron, “is really an energy sector where we can do it because we have assets. We have a primary asset—it is once again nuclear power.”
And in a report issued late last month, French grid operator RTE said that France could reach its net-zero-by-2050 target most economically by constructing both large power reactors and SMRs, along with a significant number of renewables.