French Atomic Energy-Output Cuts Would Harm Economy, CEA Says

President Francois Hollande’s plan to lower France’s reliance on nuclear energy by 2025 would create economic problems for the country, according to the head of the nation’s biggest nuclear research institute.

Reaching the goal of deriving just half of France’s electricity output from atomic reactors by 2025 from the current 75 percent “isn’t possible without creating great difficulties for the country,” Bernard Bigot, chairman of the French Atomic Energy Commission, told reporters yesterday in Saclay outside Paris. Prolonging the lives of existing reactors to about 60 years would make more economic sense, he said.

French Energy Minister Segolene Royal will provide details to the cabinet on June 11 on a long-delayed energy law that is expected to outline France’s future production mix. Hollande’s target for dependence on nuclear was accompanied by a pledge to shut the country’s oldest plant at Fessenheim in 2016.

France will need “at least” 35 atomic reactors in 2050 and so should start a “progressive replacement” program of the existing fleet, Bigot said.

State-controlled utility Electricite de France SA operates the country’s 58 nuclear reactors, which have an average age of 28 years, and is building another at Flamanville in Normandy.

By keeping the country’s atomic capacity steady and adding renewables to meet future electricity-demand growth, France could meet Holland’s goal by 2050, said Bigot, who called himself a “technical expert” rather than a policy maker.

The CEA is pushing ahead with research into a next-generation atomic reactor even as EDF and reactor builder Areva SA encounter delays and cost overruns in starting up the so-called third-generation EPR models under construction in France, Finland and China.

In the lead-up to the French energy law, promoters of atomic power like the CEA and EDF have relied on different models for predicting future electricity demand to justify keeping reactors running than detractors who want them shut down.

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