Sunday, December 23, 2012

The outlook for nuclear energy in France

Despite the fact that nuclear energy has lost much of its appeal in the last ten years or so, and especially after the Fukushima accident in Japan, France still gets approximately 77% of its electricity from nuclear energy, which is around 47% of nuclear electricity generated in the entire EU.

France has the very long nuclear energy tradition, and the key event that played the most important role in development of powerful nuclear power industry in France was large global oil crisis in 1973. The volatility of oil price market made French government realize that relying solely on fossil fuels isn't the best long-term option for French economy, and that country will be in need of some other energy source, some that doesn't depend on oil, and this is how nuclear power became one of the main forces of modern French industry.

However, even despite the very powerful nuclear energy sector, France still somewhat depends on foreign oil, and therefore isn't totally immune to global oil price fluctuation. There were these interesting results from one study in 2008 that have pointed out that France consumes more oil than non-nuclear Italy or even the almighty Germany, meaning that nuclear energy hasn't exactly offered total "energy independence" when it comes to relying on foreign oil.

Electricity from the nuclear energy (characterized by low cost of generation, though recently electricity generated from nuclear power plants has been steadily growing in prices) has significantly contributed to the fact that France is today the world's largest net exporter of electricity.
In the end of 2009 France had 59 operating nuclear reactors with total the capacity of over 63 GWe. The recent EU studies say that in the last 20 years France has invested more than $160 billion in development of the domestic nuclear power industry.

In terms of total nuclear power generation France is ranked second behind the United States, though of course U.S. is much bigger in size compared to France. France's share in the world’s nuclear electricity is currently around 16%.

French government isn't relying solely on currently built nuclear power stations and has already started building new modern nuclear power plants, that should not only have better efficiency as compared to older plants but should be also equipped with the most advanced safety programs and measures. Five years ago, in 2007, France started building its first third generation nuclear power plant in Flamanville, Normandy.

Large scale nuclear power industry is the main reason why France has low level of carbon dioxide emissions per capita. For instance United States produces about 17 metric tons of CO2 per capita while France produces about six metric tons of CO2 per capita annually.

France also has advanced programs for treating nuclear waste. Used fuel from French nuclear reactors is sent to Areva NC's La Hague plant in Normandy for reprocessing. Areva NC's La Hague plant has the capacity to reprocess up to 1700 tonnes of used fuel per year.

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