Is nuclear energy really the most economical CO2-free energy? - Inter France

In presenting its energy program for the next ten years, the government has given a special place to nuclear energy for the development of renewable energy, with the desire to maintain a reasonable cost of electricity for the tax payer. Only that it is actually nuclear which will weigh down the bill.

The Belleville-sur-Loire site in the Loiret.
The Belleville-sur-Loire site in the Loiret. © Getty / Renaud Visage

Who says that?

On Inter France this Saturday, a few days after the announcement by the government of the multi-year energy program (PPE), the managing director of EDF, Jean-Bernard Lévy, has We do not stop the echo Emmanuel Macron's guidelines in the nuclear field.

The draft outlined by the Head of State on Tuesday sets the roadmap for the energy of France for the next ten years and provides for the closure of 14 nuclear reactors by 2035, of the 58 operated by EDF on French territory. The share of nuclear energy will therefore be reduced to 50% in electricity production.

"If we want to get rid of the polluting fossil energies, which have a limited duration, electricity is the future " he insisted with Jean-Bernard Lévy, who calls on the EPR and delay the closure of nuclear power plants in France: "Our recommendation is that all reactors reach 50 years, even the 60. We should not stop them for more than 15 years because they would cause shocks that we are not able to manage at a social level or the industrial plan."

To support his arguments, EDF's CEO emphasizes the very high cost of storage, which today does not allow for modulating the distribution of energy based on demand. "When you look at costs, you have to consider the costs of electricity you need, not the cost of electricity when the wind blows, when the sun is shining and today the storage costs are very high."

What do specialists say?

Minister of Ecological and Solidarity Transition he himself repeated last Thursday at Le Parisien: "The costs of producing electricity are increasing because nuclear power plants are getting old and we have to work a little".

Author of the book Nuclear, a French catastrophe, which collects data published by ANS, Ademe and many others, the journalist Erwan Benezet He says: "Today, EDF anticipates a figure of 33 euros MWh " which is low because the costs of the plants, planned for a period of use of 40 years, have been amortized and that EDF does not take into account future investments.

The nuclear industry is one of the few economies with rising costs. "The more you go forward over time, the more expensive it is sums up Erwan Benezet. "When EDF provides these figures, it does not take into account, or at least not enough, post-nuclear power, ie the dismantling of power plants, but also the management of waste, their storage before reprocessing and then their burial. that even the pools where the radioactive fuels are stored reach their maximum storage capacity ".

Not even future investments to improve the safety or security of the reactor. "In 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, the stress tests were resumed, which led to the implementation of a series of works on all plants in the world, the so-called big refit, which includes both the strengthening of post-Fukushima security, maintenance and extension of plant life " specify the author.

What is the true cost of the French nuclear fleet?

The construction of 19 plants with 58 nuclear reactors cost up to 2012, over € 220 billion, according to the calculations of the Court of Auditors. If at present it is impossible to provide a reliable estimate of the cost of dismantling plants and of the conservation of all fuels, the Court of Auditors has estimated in ten years that it is necessary to mobilize 100 billion euros just to take the cost of the big refit.

© AFP

But another point is to specify, that of the security of the sites and their reception capacity. The storage pools, which are little used, are sized to contain the fuel for 40 years. Result, the break is close. "This reinforcement of fifty eight pools could cost up to € 1.5 billion per reactor pool" Erwan Benezet complains. "That of the four main pools of Aia, about 17 billion euros".

And as regards the upgrading of fifty-eight reactors (excluding pools), up to 2.5 billion euros are needed per unit. In total, there could be more than 200 billion euros that would cost this enormous project to be completed. This is between three and five times the costs programmed by EDF to extend the life of the plants. "Except that", writes the author, "not doing it can cost us even more".

And the EPR?

At the microphone of Alexandra Bensaid, Jean-Bernard Lévy also asked to continue investment in EPR.

But the Flammanville experience demonstrates the very high cost of new generation nuclear power: 11 billion euros. All in the guise of a "lie" generalized, recalls Erwan Benezet: "When it was launched in 2007, the project was estimated at 3.3 billion euros for commissioning in 2012, but everyone knew that the amounts and deadlines would have been unsustainable. "

The cost is also high for both Hinkley Point reactors. EDF must pay 16 of around 23 billion euros for the project, China will pay the rest of the bill.

© AFP

Yes, but the works?

Among EDF's arguments to delay the exit from nuclear power is the incapacity to manage the transition, socially, in 15 years. However, Ademe, the agency for the environment and energy management, states that one million euros invested in renewables consists of 15 created jobs. The same sum invested in nuclear energy or coal is six jobs.

Today, adds Erwan Benezet, "Renewables represent 100,000 jobs in France, jobs that are not yet transferable": "By 2030, half a million jobs, almost a million in 2050."

For comparison, today nuclear energy allows the use of 220,000 people in France for a sector that produces 75% of electricity in France.

conclusion

If today the production of electricity in France remains cheap, it is not counting the future costs of the extension of the duration of use of the power plants that forces the heavy investments to continue the production of nuclear energy in conditions of safety and satisfactory .

But the sums that will be spent, to ensure the maintenance of nuclear production over a longer time than expected, are now largely underestimated in the opinion of the experts. These amounts are intended to have an impact on our electricity bill, according to François de Rugy, which could be greater than that of a major investment strategy in the production of renewable energy. parallel of the dismantling of nuclear power plants?

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