The senator violated the limit on nuclear production in France

Posted Jan 18, 2023, 1:27 p.mUpdated on Jan 18, 2023 at 17:31

This is a quick review by senators. Late Tuesday, the Senate completed an expedited text examination of “procedures relating to the construction of new nuclear installations”, expanding its scope to “cast a strong signal” of the rise of nuclear energy, as the rapporteur, senator from Vosges, Daniel Gremillet (LR) underlined.

The most symbolic act adopted by the Senate was the elimination of the goal of reducing the share of nuclear power in France’s electricity production mix. Currently, nuclear energy provides around 60% of electricity production in France – and nearly 75% when all power plants are operating at full capacity – but legislation so far sets a goal of reducing this share to 50% by 2035, with a view to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear energy.

Change of course in energy policy

This 50% limit stems from the energy transition law adopted under François Hollande in 2015 and was reaffirmed by the energy climate law adopted in 2019, during Emmanuel Macron’s first five-year term. But the course has led from 2017: Nicolas Hulot, then Minister of Ecology Emmanuel Macron, has postponed the date to reach it from 2025 to 2035.

Maintaining this ceiling, however, means surviving nuclear reactor shutdowns, a path Emmanuel Macron rejected in his Belfort speech without changing the law. In order to reduce the nuclear share to 50% of the mix by 2035, the government deems it necessary to close 12 nuclear reactors during the period (in addition to the two in Fessenheim).

For senators, it will be important to confirm a change in direction in energy policy as soon as this text is adopted. “The government avoids crucial questions from the energy planning review. Until the turn of Belfort’s speech, the president of the Republic pursued a policy of friction and indecision toward the new nuclear power. Our commission wants to reverse this trend,” explains Daniel Gremillet.

Two public consultations are underway

To really turn things around, the senators also removed the official limit on nuclear electricity which was set at 63.2 gigawatts in the energy code.

In addition, they also included in the text the goal of maintaining nuclear’s share in electricity production “more than 50% by 2050”. A way of asserting their desire to engage in an honest and strong atomic renaissance as in the scenario, the French power grid manager RTE explained that it was necessary to build many EPRs in France, even SMRs and also expand the existing fleet as much as possible, to maintain this production level.

The topic is particularly sensitive for the government, which has promised a “real” public debate on the rise of nuclear power. Two public consultations are underway, one on the construction of the new EPR at Penly, the other on the future energy mix.

The Transitional Minister for Energy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, addressed senators on Tuesday, conveying the government’s desire to await the results of these consultations in order to revise, with Parliament, France’s energy roadmap. “We share the ambition this article displays, but this text is not an appropriate vehicle to talk about PPE [programmation pluriannuelle de l’énergie, qui définit les grands objectifs entre 2024 et 2028, NDLR] : it’s tantamount to trampling on the public consultation that many of you asked for”, he stressed.

“Leaving the way”

This seems inconclusive, especially since the presidential camp submitted a last-minute amendment that accepted a proposal made by senators to remove the 50% limit imposed on nuclear production from the law. “We have no substantive disagreements with the position of the senators,” we assured the minister’s office.

The amendment was rejected and criticism skyrocketed on the hemicycle. “You said that nuclear power’s place in the mix would not be called into question by this text, which is not PPE. But here, you go out of your way and go into the background! “, carried away by the feelings of socialist senator Jean-Michel Houllegatte.

This Wednesday, the National Commission on Public Debate which is responsible for directing the debate on the future development of the EPR also penalized this proposal. “On the other hand, deemed irrelevant, to determine the energy strategy, the questions, statements and proposals made during the current public debate”, said the debate president, Michel Badré, and the Commission’s president of debate. , Chantal Jouanno .

Installing a new reactor

The lifting of the nuclear production ceiling must now be discussed in the National Assembly which will review the text in early April. Another question could spark debate at the Palais-Bourbon over the area where the new nuclear reactor will be installed. The subject was brought to the Senate, through an amendment tabled by environmentalists, which ensured that “nuclear installations are not settled in locations prone to flooding and sea submersion”.

The amendment was adopted by lawmakers surprising the Transitional Energy Minister. “What did you just choose […], the fact is that we are not building a new reactor either at Penly or at Gravelines, ”he said with some tension. “You’ve just potentially stopped building four reactors at Penly and Gravelines, I want to point this out because it’s interesting.”

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