BELFORT, France (AP) — France plans to build six new nuclear reactors and extend the life of its existing nuclear power plants as part of the country’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause the global warming, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.
Macron said construction work would begin around 2028 so that the first new reactor could be launched by 2035. He also called for studies on the potential expansion of the program to eight reactors.
“I don’t want any reactor that has the capacity to produce (electricity) to be shut down in the future…except obviously for safety reasons,” the president said.
The move comes amid concerns about soaring energy prices and France’s dependence on global oil and gas producers.
Macron announced what he described as “the French nuclear renaissance” in the eastern town of Belfort, home of GE Energy’s European headquarters. Before his visit, the French electricity giant EDF had announced an agreement to buy the nuclear turbine branch of the American manufacturer.
EDF, more than 80% owned by the French state, has estimated the cost of building the six pressurized water reactors, called EPRs, at around 50 billion euros ($57 billion).
France’s nuclear safety authority agreed last year to extend the operational life of the country’s 32 oldest nuclear reactors by a decade to 50 years. Most nuclear reactors were built in the 1980s, which means they could be shut down in the 2030s.
Nuclear energy currently provides about 70% of France’s electricity, more than in any other country.
Macron also announced that a call for projects backed by 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) in funding will be open to developers of so-called small modular reactors, or SMRs, which are supposed to be cheaper and faster to build. than traditional nuclear power plants.
In 2007, France launched the construction of an EPR reactor in the Normandy town of Flamanville, where it already operates a nuclear power plant. But construction is more than a decade behind schedule and its estimated cost has more than tripled. EDF indicates that it plans to start the reactor next year.
The government maintains that the construction of new nuclear reactors will allow France to meet its commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and will help reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.
Nuclear power produces far fewer emissions than coal, oil or gas, but nuclear power plants are very expensive to build and produce radioactive waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.
Anti-nuclear activists have denounced French efforts to promote this energy source, saying the technology is unsafe and nuclear waste poses a risk to the environment.
France’s Réseau Action Climat, which brings together environmental groups, criticized the revival of the country’s nuclear industry as “a costly option that does not respond to the urgency of obtaining low-emission electricity within the next decade. of carbon without disturbance”.
Instead, “the priority must be to catch up on renewable energy, where France is Europe’s bad student,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.
As well as highlighting France’s commitment to nuclear energy, Macron said the country plans to “massively develop” renewable energy sources. He said the country would prioritize a tenfold increase in solar power by 2050, create more offshore wind farms and double the electricity generation of onshore wind farms.
These initiatives aim to “make France within 30 years the first major country in the world to emerge from dependence on fossil fuels”, he said.
Macron said the strategy would also support the purchasing power of the French because “in the long term, nuclear and renewable energy will provide cheaper energy that will be protected from market turbulence”.
“France is resolutely choosing its independence and its freedom,” he concluded.
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