France Must Decide on Energy Mix Before Reactors Close, ASN Says

France must accelerate a decision on its future energy mix before aging nuclear plants are halted permanently, according to the country’s atomic-power regulator.

Lawmakers must also ensure electricity producers have sufficient generation capacity to keep the lights on should multiple reactors shut at once for safety reasons, Autorite de Surete Nucleaire President Pierre-Franck Chevet said yesterday.

France’s national energy debate is likely to result in a new law governing electricity production, which may be put to parliament at the start of 2014. Atomic power is central to the deliberations as reactors provide three-quarters of the nation’s energy output, making it the most nuclear-dependent country.

The government needs to speed up decision-making because it takes at least 10 years to develop new power plants of any kind and connect them to the grid, the ASN said. President Francois Hollande, who has pledged to lower dependence on atomic energy, said in September that the oldest reactor at Fessenheim must shut in 2016.

“Decisions need to be made in the short term on power production capacity, whatever type it may be, and energy savings,” the ASN said, submitting its formal contribution to the energy debate. The regulator has warned of risks to power supply should a generic safety issue be uncovered, forcing a widespread shutdown of one type of reactor model.

EDF Fleet

Electricite de France SA, the nation’s biggest power producer, operates 58 nuclear reactors in the country. The plants, which were designed to run for a minimum of 40 years, are on average 27 years old and spread over 19 sites, according to the utility’s 2012 annual report.

The regulator is a “long way” from deciding whether their lifetimes can be extended, Chevet told a parliamentary commission last month.

EDF is bolstering safety after the ASN tightened regulations following the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. The utility has estimated it will have to spend 55 billion euros ($71 billion) through 2025 on safety and equipment upgrades, which may also allow it to operate the plants for as long as 60 years, Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has said.

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