France May Face Reactor Shutdowns in 2020, Regulator Says

France must prepare for the possible shutdown of more than a dozen reactors by the end of the decade as they reach the end of their theoretical lifespans, the nation’s safety regulator said.

“France has an extremely important appointment in 2020,” Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of the the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, said during a debate on atomic energy at parliament in Paris yesterday. Most of Electricite de France SA’s 58 reactors were built between 1980 and 1990 and meant “to last 40 years.”

The warning is the latest by the nuclear authority about EDF’s nuclear plants, which provide about 75 percent of the country’s power output, the biggest proportion of any nation. President Francois Hollande has pledged to trim atomic output to half of total power production by about 2025, while boosting France’s renewable energy supplies.

After the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, Germany decided to shut all its nuclear plants by 2022. Hollande, who was elected last year, has ordered the permanent halt of two 900-megawatt nuclear units at EDF’s Fessenheim plant in eastern France by the end of 2016 because of concerns the site is earthquake prone. That same year, EDF plans to start operating new reactors at Flamanville, which will be the largest single-biggest atomic generator in France.

EDF Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has said the utility wants to extend the lives of its reactors for as long as six decades. More than half of the reactors in the U.S. have been relicensed to operate an additional 20 years beyond their original 40-year lifespan.

Tough Standards

Safety standards will be tougher for 40-year-old French reactors as they undergo their once-a-decade in-depth regulatory probes, Chevet said.

Operating reactors beyond four decades “is not at all a given,” Chevet said. “Safety is a prerequisite of energy policy.”

Proglio warned of increased costs and loss of competitiveness if the country shifts away from nuclear power at the debate. During peak demand periods French output is already stretched, he said.

“The president’s promise is extremely ambitious,” said Yannick Rousselet, a Greenpeace nuclear campaigner in France. “We can’t get there by only shutting Fessenheim.”

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