Coal nuclear power costs

Published on August 6th, 2014 | by Jake Richardson


Why France Went Nuclear

August 6th, 2014 by  

France’s choice to invest heavily in nuclear, many don’t seem to be aware, was based on the fact that the country had very little in the way of its own energy resources such as coal, oil, and gas. It was hit particularly hard by the oil crisis of 1973 when the price of oil soared. At that time, most of France’s electricity was generated by power plants that burned imported oil.

nuclear power plant czech republic

In America, it was the excessive cost of gas that seemed to be the main point of shock. Long lines at gas stations resulted in frustration, fear, and confusion. For France, one could argue the effect was more harrowing because oil prices quadrupled, yet foreign oil was needed to provide most of the electricity for the country.

Nuclear power was an attractive option because the fuel was not nearly as volatile, and a solution to the over-reliance on oil was very much needed. From 1974 to 1989, France launched a highly aggressive nuclear power development program.

Today, France has 59 nuclear reactors providing about 78% of its electricity. It is also the leading exporter of nuclear energy in the EU. One might say France took a huge gamble and it appears it won big.

The first generation nuclear reactors were built in the 1950s; the second generation in the 1970s. (Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were second-generation plants.) Third-generation plants were designed in the 1990s. Fourth-generation plants are the ones designed today. The latest generation has been designed to solve the safety issues associated with the older generations.

“It is technically impossible for them to have a runaway chain reaction. No accident, failure or human carelessness could produce mass radiation. No matter what mistakes the operators make, the power station is inherently safe,” explained James Martin, in The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring Our Future.

In 2011, a study found that many nuclear plants in France needed enhanced safety measures to cope with natural disasters like the earthquake the caused the Fukushima plant problems.

Of course, there are critics, and some are more vocal, like Greenpeace, but nuclear power appears to have been most successful in France and today its nuclear industry employs about 400,000.

That said, there is a strong move away from nuclear and toward renewables in France. The high price of new nuclear power plants, retiring nuclear power plants, low renewable energy costs, and nuclear’s inflexibility (slow start-up and shut-down times) are all at play here. Of course, a more liberal government has also been pushing for the switch.

Image Credit: nuclear power plant via Shutterstock

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  • GeorgeMokray

    “France may well generate 75% of its electricity from nuclear power but it still consumes more oil than its less nuclear neighbors.” _Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science_ by Philippe Squarzoni

    • Ronald Brakels

      Err, no per capita France burns about as much oil as its neighbours. A little less actually according to the figures I’m looking at. And it appears that new light vehicles purchased in France average the most economical in the world, although maybe Norway now has them beat on that.

      • GeorgeMokray

        So if France went nuclear in part to reduce its dependency on foreign oil, gas and coal and France is now maybe using only “a little less” oil per capita than its neighbors, does that call into question the “reduce foreign fuel dependency” argument for nuclear?

        • Objectif Terre

          Every kWh produces by nuclear plants avoid burning brown or dark coal and natural gas (and oil). But french nuclear fleet is old. So we have 3 options:
          1 – investing in a upgrad of the old fleet to get a 60 years lifespan instead of 40 years
          2 – investing in new nuclear (EPR, costly)
          3 – investing in renewables
          EDF (Henri Proglio) view is: option 1
          My view is: option 3. Option 2 is for me a non-sens.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Looking at the price of nuclear electricity in France right now it’s hard to see how a refurbishment approach would pencil out.

            Clearly governments make decisions that aren’t always wise. (As do private companies.) But if the decision between renewables and refurbishing is made on cost then renewables win. They are already cheaper than the non-refurbished reactors.

          • Objectif Terre

            I have been invited to be a member of the official “energy expert” comitee of “François Hollande 2012” (presidential election campaign). I accepted and have tried to explain exactly what you say.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What sort of numbers for the cost of electricity from refurbished reactors have been floated?

            What sort of numbers for solar, wind, and nuclear are publicly used in France when these issues are discussed?

          • Objectif Terre

            Nuclear: Cour des comptes
            Wind and Solar: Fraunhofer Institute

          • Ronald Brakels

            One thing that may often be overlooked in France is with the country’s high retail electricity prices and high levels of sunshine (by European standards), then as in Australia, rooftop solar will provide electricity at a lower cost than any utility scale generation, be it nuclear or fossil fuel, unless of course solar installation costs in France are anomolously high. But as its neighbours have shown, it doesn’t take long to bring down the cost of rooftop solar. Right now solar is perfect for France as the country has trouble meeting peek summer demand due to cooling difficulties at several nuclear plants.

          • AltairIV

            Even if they do go for choice one, it only delays the eventual need to
            choose between two or three anyway. At some point in the not-so-distant future, be it ten, twenty, thirty
            years, the existing plants WILL need to be replaced. So
            why not just figure out what to replace them with now, and work towards
            that? I know which choice I would make.

          • Objectif Terre

            EDF wants to get money from it’s old nuclear fleet as long as possible. The french state have 84,5% share of the EDF capital, but EDF only follows his private interests.

        • globi

          The French nuclear growth seemed to mostly boost wasteful electricity consumption:

          (Unless most French people lived without electricity before the 1980s somehow )

          • Objectif Terre

            Electric heating of buildings and homes explain a part of the electric consumption rise. During the winter, electricity demand rises a lot in France.

          • globi

            Not doubting what you said, but it is interesting that the natural gas consumption in France was still increasing during the nuclear build up.
            At least France has gotten more efficient since 2001.

          • Objectif Terre

            The natural gas consumption would have rised more without heating based on nuclear electricity. In Germany, natural gas heating is far more widespread than in France.

          • globi

            It’s a pity that France hasn’t invested more in efficient electric heat pump heating instead of resistance heating. But maybe this is about to change?

          • Objectif Terre

            EDF don’t want to much energy efficiency.
            There is a fight in France between UFE ( Union Française de l’Electricité = EDF + GDF Suez) and the NégaWatt network (néga-watt = reducing electricity consumption).

          • globi
        • Bob_Wallace

          Are we stirring electricity and transportation into the same pot here?

        • Ronald Brakels

          Ah, well, in terms of energy, almost all of France’s nuclear fuel is imported, so that’s basically the same as when France was importing oil to burn for electricity. In terms of Euros, it is cheaper to import a kilowatt-hour’s worth of uranium than than a kilowatt-hour’s worth of coal, so in that sense there has been less money is being spent on foreign energy than if they had built coal plants. However, the non-fuel costs of nuclear power are very high so it’s still much more expensive than other options.

          But these days no one burns oil to generate electricity if they can help it because it’s too expensive. So France stopped burning oil for electricity, but so did just about every other non Middle-Eastern country. Oil is mostly only used for transportation these days and France’s transport is very efficient, but only slightly better than other nearby countries. However, they still deseve a thumbs up for being perhaps the best in the world in this regard.

  • Ronald Brakels

    “One might say France took a huge gamble and it appears it won big.” No, it appears to have lost big. And of all the nations of the world perhaps France is the one that has lost the most as a result of its nuclear program. While I am glad that France did not decide to import coal and build coal power plants instead of nuclear reactors, France blew a lot of money on what is now a dead end technology and is faced with the cost of cleaning up its nuclear power program and the continuing risk of nuclear accidents that exceed the cost of the $100+ million nuclear accident in Manche. If instead in 1974 France had decided to pursue renewable energy and efficiency instead they would have invested in what is now the dynamic and growing part of the energy sector. Renewable technology would have been improved earlier and would have been utilized in other countries at an earlier date and we could be enjoying declining world carbon dioxide emissions at this point instead of scrambling to prevent them rising further. So while I’m glad that France didn’t invest in coal plants, the nation was really quite unfortunate they didn’t choose a better option than nuclear.

    Technologies that were clearly effective in the mid 70s and had a clear path for further cost reductions: Solar hot water, solar home and building heating, small and large scale hydro, biomass. general efficiency – insulation, fluorescent lighting, etc., conventional geothermal, ground and water heat pumps for heating and cooling, cogeneration.

    Technologies that were clear canidates for significant cost reductions: Wind power, solar thermal.

    Technologies that had potential for significant cost reductions but were unproven or would require technology advances that could not be predicted at the time: Solar PV, wave, dry rock geothermal.

    Dark Horse: Ocean thermal – Not sure what people were thinking with this one. Conventional power plants flush away warm water with a greater heat difference than what this was supposed to exploit.

    Please feel free to quibble with my pigeonholing of technologies.

    • Objectif Terre

      “France blew a lot of money on what is now a dead end technology”
      Yes, really a lot of money. And a pro-nuclear ideology is now in place, blocking solar PV and wind energy. It’s like a religion. For them if you prefer solar rather than nuclear you are against the progress of science and like a Cro Magnon man. Boiling water with nuclear technology is for them a symbol of modernity and intelligence. The is also french nationalism versus renewables from Germany. The french civil nuclear program is a continuation of the military nuclear program following world war II (General De Gaulle). There is no european energy politic because of the rivality between France and Germany.
      France has lost and is still loosing the enormous world market of Renewables + Flexibility technologies.

      • Ronald Brakels

        To quote Daniel Davies, “Good ideas do not require lots of lies told about them to gain public acceptance.” If nuclear power was clearly such a great idea the facts would stand for themselves, but oddly enough, I’ve never come across an honest nuclear supporter. Oh sure, there have been those who obviously don’t know what they’re talking about and fall into the not even wrong category, but among those who can type and chew gum at the same time they always seem to engage in the following types of activities:

        – Ignore insurance as a legitimate part of the cost of nuclear power.

        – Refuse to look at the actual costs of new nuclear plants in the developed world and quote Chinese or decades old costs that were never market costs in the first place. Apparently new nuclear reactors could have been built much cheaper, the private and governmental bodies involved just decided not to for some reason.

        – Deny that nuclear accidents such as the Fukushima disaster had any costs. (It necessary for them to hold this belief in order to deny that nuclear power has huge unfunded insurance costs.)

        – Declare that the full cost of nuclear waste disposal in the US is already covered by the tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour the US government charges nuclear power when other countries waste disposal costs significantly more and a vast amount of the fund was blown to little or no benefit on a failed long term storage scheme.

        – Claim that magic future nuclear reactors will be incredibly cheap and completely safe. PRISM! Pebble bed! Thorium! Modular reactors! Ignore the fact that engineers actually putting forward these designs are generally honest enough to admit that the extra safety, flexibility, reduced fuel needs, etc. of these designs comes at a higher cost per kilowatt, not a lower one.

        • Objectif Terre

          ” I’ve never come across an honest nuclear supporter”
          Good resume of the situation 😉

        • AltairIV

          Let’s not forget that they also commonly parrot many of the lies against solar, wind and other technologies that “compete” with nuclear power. The common refrain always seems to be that renewables alone will never be sufficient, so we need nukes!

          • Ronald Brakels

            Yes, I should have mentioned that. Telling lies about renewables does seem to be their favorite activity, probably because there are very few positive things that can truthfully be said about nuclear power.

          • A Real Libertarian

            probably because there are very few positive things that can truthfully be said about nuclear power.

            And because renewables can mostly do them better.

          • Objectif Terre

            “Telling lies about renewables does seem to be their favorite activity”
            Yes, and its an ethical and deontological problem. I have written this article in january 2014 about this “lying strategy”:
            “Non, le solaire ne pousse pas à la consommation de charbon en Allemagne (No, solar isn’t responsible of coal rise in Germany) (…) Un problème de déontologie se pose pour les journalistes. La mise en avant des avantages réels du nucléaire, comme par exemple la capacité de produire de l’électricité en continu, en particulier l’hiver où la production électro-solaire est plus faible, ou de réduire la facture liée aux importations de combustibles fossiles, n’est-elle pas suffisante pour que certains en viennent à mentir de manière délibérée à propos des énergies renouvelables ? (lying on purpose about renewables) Au nom du sauvetage de la filière nucléaire française, fleuron national, et de la volonté de prolonger le fonctionnement de nos vieilles centrales nucléaires jusqu’à 2040, tout est-il permis, y compris de faire preuve au pire de malhonnêteté intellectuelle délibérée ou, au mieux, d’ignorance ? (…)”

          • Ronald Brakels

            I have to admit all that French was really hard for me to read. I feel as though it shouldn’t have been hard as French is exactly the same as English apart from the differenct vocabularly and grammar. Anyway, I finally resorted to a translation program and I have to admit it was better at translating than I was. And as a result I learned you have some really stupid people in France. And not the honest kind of stupidity caused by the fact that thinking is hard, but the pure stupidity of not even bothering to check the most basic of relevent information on account of how one’s confirmation bias is wedged so firmly up one’s lymbic system one dismisses the very idea of checking without a thought. Quite literally without a thought. There is not an intellectual process going on there.

          • Objectif Terre

            Sorry, I have translated Jancovici’s phrases, but not my response to those lies. In France, Jancovici is presented by all mainstrem medias as an excellent energy expert.

          • Objectif Terre

            Sorry, I have translated Jancovici’s phrases, but not my responses to UFE’s lies.

          • Objectif Terre

            Sorry Ronald, I have only translated the Jancovici’s phrases, and not my responses to UFE’s lies. He is presented in France by the mainstream medias as an excellent energy expert.

    • eveee

      Thanks for the tip on Manche. Manche was a near miss, and a flood incident that could have prevented Fukushima if the IAEA had any potency. Lost in the major accidents is a huge list of near misses and ordinary industrial accidents. Given that nuclear buffs ignore count among wind deaths, a parachutist, a review of ordinary industrial accidents at NPP is more balanced.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Just throwing something else in the mix. About a year or so ago someone in the French government stated that they were having problems attracting bright new people into the nuclear industry as most younger people saw little future there and wanted to work with renewables.

    • Steve Grinwis

      Can’t blame them there…

  • JP

    I am pleased to see an article that puts nuclear into context. While I am all for widespread solar PV + battery storage, geothermal, solar CSP, wind, and every other renewable energy source, there is something to be said for nuclear as well. I am not blind to the fact that there is a rather ridiculous up-front capital cost to building nuclear plants. However, a source of energy that does not release carbon dioxide (and any other pollutants), produces very small amounts of controlled waste, produces huge amounts of energy, and is relatively constant and not intermittent, should have a place in our energy mix.

    I certainly wish the US (and the rest of the world) had France’s issue of lower nuclear dependency instead of lower coal, oil, and natural gas dependency.

    • globi

      Actually wind power alone is less intermittent than a large power plant as far as the grid is concerned:

      In fact, Texas grid operator data show that the integration costs for conventional power plants are far larger than the integration costs for wind generation. Because changes in wind output occur gradually over many hours and can be predicted, while failures at conventional power plants occur instantly and without warning, more reserves and more expensive reserves are required to reliably integrate conventional power plants. For example, the Texas grid operator ERCOT holds 2800 MW of fast-acting reserves 24/7/365 to keep the lights on in case one of the state’s large fossil or nuclear power plants experiences an unexpected failure, as all power plants do from time to time.

      In addition, Wind and PV complement each other:

      • JP

        But you will still need battery or other power plant backup for wind and solar as well. If one nuclear plant suffers a failure, it does not mean other nuclear plants will then fail all together. If the wind stops blowing, ALL wind power generation in that area will cease.

        Also, what does the data show for areas other than Texas? Each region is going to be unique. Wind is much more plentiful and constant in some areas, but not in others. What then?

        I am not trying to discount wind, but merely state that nuclear plants have the advantage of being completely independent from each other and can certainly be an option if wind is not as plentiful.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “If the wind stops blowing, ALL wind power generation in that area will cease.”

          It depends on how you define “area”. Wind farms over as little as couple hundred miles apart don’t go up and down together. The wider the grid, the more dependable the wind.

          Nuclear, more than a handful on the gird, also needs storage. As soon as you exceed the minimum load then you’ve got to start moving power from low to higher demand hours. Back when we were building nuclear we built a lot of PuHS to move thermal production from one time of day to another. And nuclear rose to only 20% of our supply.

          • JP

            I appreciate the very informative post (not sarcasm, completely serious). Do coal/oil/gas not run into the same issue? Or is their power generation just far more “controllable” than nuclear?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Gas is very dispatchable. Gas peaking turbines can go from full stop to full speed in less than 15 minutes. CCNG plants can be running at full output fairly quickly. Some may be capable of getting there in less than two hours (I’m not sure about that number, certainly less than four hours).
            Coal plants can be turned on and back off. I noticed that one or more coal plants in Canada were being cycled daily, turned off in the evening and back on in the morning for the daily peak.

            Nuclear plants take days to cycle on/off. Some can ‘load follow’, decrease/increase their output but not many US plants can.

            We could build load following nuclear plants but load-following would make their electricity even more expensive.

            Take, for example, the current cost projection for the new Vogtle reactors. 11 cents per kWh. That number is derived by taking the total annual cost (loan payment, operating costs) and dividing it by the expected annual output.

            If those reactors were used for load-following and produced only half as much electricity during the year the cost of electricity would double to 22 cents per kWh. (Half as much would be an extreme case, but the math is easy. ;o)

            It’s likely that storage is cheaper than load-following when it comes to nuclear.

          • JP

            Once again, very informative.

            Because of nuclear’s ability to generate such huge amounts of energy, do you see it becoming more relevant as energy storage costs fall? While I would rather do with a world without needing nuclear, it seems like (despite the huge capital costs) a viable option as a part of the world’s energy mix going forward.

          • globi

            If you want to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, it’s way faster and cheaper to electrify the heating and transportation sector, invest in efficiency measures and increase the renewable proportion in the existing grid than building new nuclear power plants.

            The punch line: nuclear expansion buys two to 10 times less climate protection per dollar, far slower than its winning competitors. Spending a dollar on new nuclear power rather than on negawatts thus has a worse climate effect than spending that dollar on new coal power.

          • JP

            No offense, but I am going to need data and/or analysis to back up that claim. That article literally just spouts assertions with no references (that I could tell).

            Also, that article was last updated 4 years ago. With how quickly energy storage technology is moving, I would like to see something more recent than that.

          • globi

            Here you go:
            And that article is not about storage it’s mostly about reducing the need for fossil fuels with efficiency measures and renewables.

            Storage is overrated: VDE calculated that Germany won’t need any substantial storage before reaching 80% renewables in the grid:
            And hat is if Germany decided to rely on its own storage. However, Norway alone already has already over 3 times more hydro storage capacity than what Germany would need with a 100% renewable grid.
            Which means if Europe decided to improve the grid and increase the power of existing hydro power plants (not storage capacity), it could rely on already existing hydro power lakes. Keep also in mind that interconnected German, Spanish and British wind farms as well as PV provide baseload.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I use the following numbers for my ‘back of envelop’.

            11 cent for new nuclear – Citigroup’s LCOE for the Vogtle reactors. That 11c would be higher without the federal assistance nuclear gets (loan guarantees, liability acceptance).

            Less than 6.5 cents, probably less than 4 cents for non-subsidized wind – based on real world numbers, signed PPAs.

            Roughly 8 cents for non-subsidized solar – based on signed PPAs. Solar will likely drop to below 4c before any reactors beyond the Vogtle ones could come on line.

            Storage, my guess is that it’s going to be less than 8 cents.

            Let’s assume we get 40% of our electricity directly from wind, 30% direct (use it as it’s generated) from solar, and store a mix of wind/solar for the final 30%/

            0.4 * 6.5c + 0.3 * 8 + 0.3 * 15.25c = 9.575 c/kWh for wind, solar and storage.

            9.575 < 11

            That's using a very nuclear-friendly 6.5c for wind and 8c for solar. Run the numbers using 3.6c (based on non-confirmed 2013 average PPA price) and 4c (likely price of solar in short years) and the number falls to 6.2c/kWh. Just above half the cost of new nuclear.

          • JP

            Once again, very informative. I am not certain if there is really any way to quantify this, but should this sort of analysis comparing nuclear to solar also include the cost of replacing solar panels with new ones after 20 years? Or if there is a depreciation of power generated through solar panels over time as the panels get older?

            In all likelihood that won’t even matter because you would be replacing old solar panels with cheaper ones that generate more power more efficiently, so they would probably pay for themselves again very quickly. Just curious.

            Again, thank you for your well thought-out and analysis-backed responses! I do appreciate it. It seems like the nuclear sector needs some sort of breakthrough to drastically lower their capital costs in order to compete in the very near future (or present).

          • globi

            As opposed to a nuclear power plant PV-modules have no moving parts and are not exposed to high radiation, high pressures and high temperatures. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t last 50 years and more:
            This PV-system in Swiss alps actually produced the most power after 11 years of operation:
            However, PV-modules are said to have a degradation of 0.5% per year on average:
            Which means some future generations will probably need to replace them at some point. Well, they will need to have some jobs in 100 years from now anyway.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Our oldest solar panels are now 40 years old. At age 35 they were taken down, individually tested, and found to have lost only 0.1% output per year over those 35 years.

            Panels mounted in a place with higher levels of UV light, such as the high desert, would probably degrade a bit more but less than 0.4% a year. A 50 year old panel, worst case, should be outputting at least 80% as much power as when new.

            Inverters will likely have a shorter life, perhaps 20 years on average, but they are getting cheaper to replace.

            Power purchase agreements (PPAs) are generally 20 long. When you see a 5 cent PPA for solar that means that a contract has been signed for the sale of that power at 5c for the 20 year period and the project has likely been financed for 20 years.

            After the PPA is over and the loan is paid that solar farm is likely to have operating costs under 1c/kWh. Adding a new inverter is not likely to take the cost much over 1c for the next 20 years. That’s some very cheap electricity to be sold. (Or some nice profits for the farm owners.)

            We have unconfirmed information that the non-subsidized price of wind dropped to 3.6c/kWh in 2013. Solar should be below 5c in the next very few years and should go lower.

            If nuclear is now 11c (with subsidies) I simply can’t see a way for nuclear to cut costs enough to get into the game. It’s not like nuclear would need to cut it’s cost 50%, nuclear would have to find a route to a more than 50% price decrease. What would be required would be equivalent to finding a way to build a building, bridge, dam, other large structure for <50% as much as what the price had been for a long time.

            Nuclear is a mature industry. The world has been building reactors for over 60 years. A lot of very bright people in a lot of different countries have been looking for ways to reduce costs and haven't found a way yet.

        • globi

          No grid will have 100% wind.

          It may have 100% renewables, but this won’t happen in the next 50 years and renewables such as wind, photovoltaics and hydro complement each other.
          Also, before removing fossil fuels from the electric sector, it is sensible to remove them from from the hot water, heating and transportation sector which adds a significant amount of flexiblity to the grid. (There’s no point in a 100% renewable grid and keep on heating with old oil furnaces).

          Also, different areas even in different countries have already been interconnected for decades (look for instance at the Quebec – New England Transmission), there’s no reason to believe that there won’t be more interconnection in 50 years from now.

        • A Real Libertarian

          If one nuclear plant suffers a failure, it does not mean other nuclear plants will then fail all together.

          That depends, Fukushima didn’t go like that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            This is something that nuclear supporters don’t want to acknowledge. A nasty nuclear accident can shut down not only one reactor, but all the reactors in one or more countries.

            Chernobyl and Fukushima are closing dozens of perfectly functional reactors. Melt one down the the US and look for all US reactors to be fighting off angry neighbors. Even China or South Korea could see their citizens rising up against nuclear if they suffer a reactor disaster.

          • A Real Libertarian

            Melt one down the the US and look for all US reactors to be fighting off angry neighbors. Even China or South Korea could see their citizens rising up against nuclear if they suffer a reactor disaster.

            And imagine how the French would react.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Saint Merde!!!!

          • A Real Libertarian

            I think “Liberté, Égalité, Shut Down The Nukes!” would be the more likely response.

          • Objectif Terre

            Smile 🙂

  • Matt

    it is technically impossible for them to have a runaway chain reaction. No accident, failure or human carelessness could produce mass radiation. No matter what mistakes

    I believe that you mean “in theory it is impossible” remember these are build by humans. We can review history and see that short cuts are made. In Cincinnati, when Zimmer was being build as a Nuclear. They found that all the weld documentation had been fake, then two inspector didn’t show up to work (bodies were never found). So after a bit or hand ringing Zimmer was converted to coal and became the most expensive per MW coal plant ever built.
    So in this new 4th generation reactor if:
    A) The reactor splits down the side because of bad welds still. no impact?
    B) Earth quake no matter how big, centered on the building. no impact?
    C) A 777 crashes into building. no impact?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Homer can decide to make a Festivas pole with fuel rods.

      I’m sure that reactors can be made safer, but ‘safer’ is not the same as ‘fool proof’.

      Why do we want to mess with this stuff when it produces very expensive electricity, over twice as expensive as renewables?

      Jetsomism. That’s my working theory….

  • SecularAnimist

    Jake Richardson wrote: “Today, France has 59 nuclear reactors providing about 78% of its electricity.”

    Yawn. The USA has 100 nuclear reactors, generating more electricity from nuclear power than any other nation in the world.

  • JamesWimberley

    France reckoned it controlled its supply of uranium in Niger (remember Saddam’s yellowcake?). For a long time after the nominal independence of its African colonies, Paris continued to pull the strings, through spooks, the military, and a French-controlled currency area. Google “Jacques Foccart”.

  • France’s commitment to eliminate 33% of its nuclear fleet by 2025 in its just released long term energy plan is worth a mention, I would have thought.

    • Objectif Terre

      “France’s commitment to eliminate 33% of its nuclear fleet by 2025”
      Sorry Mike, there is not comitment of France to eliminate one third (20 GW) of it’s 60 GW nuclear fleet. It would be great, but that’s not the case. The 60 GW will still be there in 2025 (and France is building the EPR of Flamanville, 1,6 GW, 3d generation nuclear reactor). As the french electricity consumption will rise, the % of the nuclear power will be a little bit smaller. There is absolutly no strong move in France to replace the nuclear fleet by Renewables in France.

      • Interesting, but completely inaccurate. Demand is projected to remain flat at perhaps 1% per annum. Assuming that’s compounded, 2009 generation was 575 TWH in 2009 and nuclear was 75% at that time, in 2025, the percentage of nuclear generation would be in the range of 337 TWH or 67%.

        My apologies, but you are completely wrong. France is going to shut down a lot of its nuclear reactors to achieve this mandated goal.

        • Objectif Terre

          Ségolène Royal (French Minister of Energy):
          Nuclear power is « le socle énergétique de notre pays»

          “Henri Proglio (EDF) estime que cette part diminuera mécaniquement en raison de la hausse de la consommation d’électricité liée aux nouvelles technologies et d’un accroissement de la population française.”

          (Translation: Proglio (EDF CEO) view is that the % of the nuclear in the electricty mix will fall from 75% to 50% just as a consequence of the rise of electricity demand (electric cars and population rise)

          • Objectif Terre

            (Mike) “Demand is projected to remain flat at perhaps 1% per annum.”
            Response: EDF and RTE analysis:

          • Amusing.

            So the guy in charge of EDF, the largest nuclear utility in the world, thinks that France — a stable, developed country with a stagnant economy — will grow electrical demand 3.6% annually compounded for the next 12 years in the face of every other country like France remaining flat. My apologies if I believe my sources, not him.

            “In 2013, French gross electricity consumption rose by 1.1% as compared with 2012”

            “Nuclear production has dipped slightly, with -0.3%, compared with 2012. It represented 73.3% of total production in 2013.”


            “Between January and March 2011, France’s GDP growth had been stronger than expected at 0.9% but shrunk between April and June 2011 decreasing by −0.1%. However, in 2012 growth was stagnant, and in the final quarter of 2013 the French economy was growing at a slow rate of 0.3%.[15]”

            French population growth is well under 0.5% annually, and has been for decades.

          • Objectif Terre

            (Mike) “Amusing. So the guy in charge of EDF (…)”
            Yes, Henri Proglio think that the rise of electricity demand (electric cars + population rise + hypotetical GDP rise) will contribute “mécaniquement” to a fall of the nuclear production from 75% now to 50% in 2025. All of this without any solar PV or Wind mills replacing the nuclear fleet. That’s a pity but it’s the sad reality. Now we have in France ecologists who are fighting against electric cars…

            (Mike) “My apologies if I believe my sources, not him.”
            Henri Prolgio is THE key player in the french “transition énergétique” (electicity). EDF is “un état dans l’état”, a “state in the state”. We are in France in a nuclear dictatorship. They are very good to make illusionary declarations. Normal people can’t undestand that such perversity and falsety are possible.

          • Flat population + flat GDP growth + more efficient appliances and technologies + electric cars = slight rises, not 3.6% rises.

            I agree that Prolgio is powerful. He’s also King Canute, ordering the tide to go out. The French people have requested a change away from nuclear and the first reactor to be lit up in France in over 20 years is currently running 2.5 times budget and four years behind schedule. He may be a powerful bureaucrat in a country that adores them, but he’s failing miserably on every real world test.

            “Since then, the predicted cost of just under £3 billion has rocketed to more than £7 billion (it could go up still further). Not only have costs more than doubled, but the estimated completion time is almost twice as long as was promised: it was meant to start producing energy in 2012, but that has been put back to 2016 at the earliest.”

            Read more:
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          • Objectif Terre

            “The French people have requested a change away from nuclear and the first reactor to be lit up in France in over 20 years is currently running 2.5 times budget and four years behind Schedule”
            That’s right. French people (like in other part of the world) love renewables energies. And the EPR is really costly, in France, in Finland (and also in the UK…). But EDF want a prolongation of the lifespan of the old nuclear reactors, as the are “money machines”. We have in France a strong “energy democracy” problem.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Does the French electrical system allow net metering? Strike a blow against nukes, install PV panels.

          • Objectif Terre

            In France, the electricity is artificially cheap…

          • globi

            Which French reactors may go offline in France in the next 10 years? Apart from Fessenheim?

          • The obvious candidate list are the oldest reactors. By 2025, the target date for reduction, this list of reactors will be over 42 years old. Per the aging I did to arrive at the 23% capacity shutdown, there’s a need to get rid of over 14 GW of capacity and here is 17 GW of potential.

            I checked the Fukushima assessment and France has indicated that every plant that they have requires expensive upgrades which will cause 9.5% to 14.5% cost-of-electricity increases if you believe their numbers, and there is no reason to believe those numbers.

            49 GW of capacity will be 40 years old in 2030 and 57 GW will be 40 in 2035. I would expect that France will see a precipitous decline in nuclear just due to aging plants and the very high price of refurbishment or replacement vs the radically diminishing costs of renewables.

            I picked up the data from this excellent source:

            Also worth reading is this Vox article on nuclear decline. Nobody is planning replacement of the aging capacity in any significant numbers. Even France has only one reactor being built, and of course its four years over schedule and 2.5 times over budget.


          • Objectif Terre

            Henri Proglio (EDF) says that a 60 years lifespan is possible for the french nuclear reactors. He says that’s upgrading the old reactors is the cheapest option for France (cheapest than investing in EPR or renewables).

            Henri Proglio: « L’extension souhaitée c’est de passer de 40 à 60 ans la durée de vie possible de nos réacteurs »

          • Wind energy in the US central states came in at 2.1 cents per USD for long term power purchase agreements last year as the average. If you add transmission and PTC, the real price is still only around 5 cents USD per KWH with profit. Brazil saw the same price point average in 2012 and 2013 in its wind farms.

            Solar saw PPAs for 5 cents USD last year as well.

            Wind and solar energy are dropping in price. Nuclear is going up.

            Refurbishment is cheaper than new build, but wind and solar are cheaper and lower risk than either.

            Proglio can say whatever he wants but his credibility is in trouble when no major international organization actually agrees with his numbers.

            It will be interesting to see who wins the short term political fight, but the longer term fight isn’t really in question. Whether it’s by 2025 or 2045, France will have substantially less nuclear power and substantially more renewable energy.

            I’m happy France isn’t running coal and is running nuclear. But it’s pretty much impossible to justify more nuclear or even a lot of refurbishment compared to mainstream renewable alternatives.

          • Objectif Terre

            I entirely agree with you.

          • globi

            EDF probably also wants to keep the old nuclear power plants online as long as possible in order to avoid/postpone the enormous decommissioning costs.

          • Objectif Terre


          • Bob_Wallace

            France recently announced that 2013 production costs for nuclear electricity was running EUR 59.8/MWh, about $0.08/kWh.
            If France had a competitive utility system their reactors would be going bankrupt right and left.

          • Objectif Terre

            5,98 c€/kWh now, and more tomorrow…

  • Objectif Terre

    “there is a strong move away from nuclear and toward renewables in France”
    It would be great. But that’s not the case. Nuclear: still 75% of the french electricity and no nuclear power plant have been eliminated.

    • See Mike’s note below. A move away, not that it has already been done.

    • False.

      Demand is projected to remain flat at perhaps 1% per annum. Assuming that’s compounded, 2009 generation was 575 TWH in 2009 and nuclear was 75% at that time, in 2025, the percentage of nuclear generation would be in the range of 337 TWH or 67%.

      My apologies, but you are completely wrong. France is going to shut down a lot of its nuclear reactors to achieve this mandated goal.

      • Objectif Terre

        Mike, please see below for my response (French Energy Minister and EDF CEO views).

      • Ronald Brakels

        As an Australian it’s hard for me to believe there will be any increase in France’s electricity consumption. Australia’s grid electricity use has dropped 8% or so from its peak, over 1% a year, and that’s with a population growth more than three times higher than that of France. And note this has occurred while Australia’s economy has been the strongest in the developed world and is not the result of an economic slowdown. Factoring in population growth, grid electricity use has been dropping about 3% a year per capita. With France having the most room for efficiency improvements in electricity use in all of western Europe, it’s hard to believe their grid electricity generation won’t also fall. Large scale uptake of electric vehicles might turn this around somewhat, but to mostly replace oil in transportation would only require about a 10% increase in French electricity production, or less than a decade of Australian style reductions in grid electricity use. To me France appears quite capable of eliminating most oil use without adding a single watt of grid generating capacity.

    • Patrice Boivin

      no, that would not be great. We need MORE nuclear, not less. Who wants to have limited power, burn fossil fuels for nothing, etc. etc.

      I’m still waiting for the nuclear-powered automobiles, airplanes and rockets, not to mention trains, moving sidwalks, underwater habitats that futurists in the 1960s and 1970s predicted would be here by the year 2000.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Whee!!! Someone stuck in the 1970s.

        • jeffhre

          ’50s ? Those old Popular Science articles were truly inspiring for generations of technologists.

      • Objectif Terre

        Patrice, it’s your choice and I respect it. I prefer a 100% Wind+Water+Sun system rather than a 75% or 100% nuclear one (Uranium importation = dependency, Peak Uranium, huge water consumption for cooling system = risky in case of dryness, toxic waste management durint millenaries, security in case of terrorist attacks etc.).
        In France people prefer solar and Wind rather nuclear. But EDF makes money selling electricity from it’s old nuclear fleet. So we have an energy democracy problem.

      • patrice letailleur

        shot yourself now so you won’t have to die of radiation sickness

        • Bob_Wallace

          Tsk, tsk, tsk….

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