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AB 2000 studies

Alain Boublil Blog


Thank you, nuclear power

Regulated electricity tariffs have increased by 0.5% on August 1st after a 1.6% rise on February 1st. In two years, the French people annual bill increased by 5%. We could legitimately be worried about that. But it would forget that, as an average, in Europe, the rise has been much superior, when prices paid by household were already much higher than in France. In 2019, the cost by consumption unit in Germany, for instance was superior by 68%. Natural gas regulated tariffs, them, have increased by 8.7% September 1st, after rises by 5.3% and 9.9% June 1st and April 1st under the effects of the world economies rebound and a colder Spring almost everywhere.

When, in the world, the natural gas prices rise was transferred to power prices, France, thanks to its nuclear power, could mitigate the consequences of these tensions on household purchasing power. That situation has coincided with the coming back to a better availability level of the power plants. The 2nd quarter production has reached 75 TWh, a 7.9% increase, compared to 2020, which is few significant due to that full lockdown period, but even lower by 11% compared to 2019. It is true that, during that period, the two units of the Fessenheim power plants had been closed.

That rebound of the nuclear power production, in a context of a general fossil fuels and electricity prices increase in the European market, from 35 cents per KWh to more than 60 cents in two years, has also generated a huge exports increase. During the last three months, they reached 20 TWh. Regarding June alone, the exchanges surplus has exceeded 500 million euro. How many industrial sectors can say they did that? The short and mid term prospects are quite also favorable because the French nuclear plants have not yet recovered their normal production level and new closures are expected in Germany and soon in Belgium which will increase the exports toward these two countries.

The nuclear choice has for a long time been the subject of a political consensus. It is under Georges Pompidou presidency that it was decided to recourse to the American technology of pressurized water plants which were mainly built during the Eighties and the Nineties, a technology which was progressively improved by the French industry and which has proved its quality both regarding production costs and safety. Its contribution to the reliability of the supply as of France energy independence is indisputable as its role in the improvement of the household purchasing power and of the competitiveness of the highly energy-consumer industrial activities. If the country has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, it is also thanks to this de-carbonized energy source.

So how to explain the low commitment and frequently the rejection by the political class of a technology which so much contributes to the achievements of economic and environmental objectives about which there is yet a large consensus? The issue goes beyond the national field because in Brussels, where are determined strict norms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must fight to make accepted that the building of new nuclear power plants or the modernization of the existing ones can benefit from the European Plan in favor of environment.

That situation is all the more paradoxical that we are preparing ourselves to forbid the fossil fuels vehicles sales and that in France, in particular, thermal renovation programs are launched for homes and buildings which inevitably will generate a significant increase of the power consumption. Despite that, the State is hesitating, stalling to launch the indispensable new nuclear power plants program dedicated to replace these ones which will arrive at the end of their life and, why not, to increase our production capacities. The political pressures against this major strategic choice are strong and they are based on one reality, the difficulties encountered by the EPR and on a myth, the contribution of renewable, solar and wind.

The first point is indisputable but also easy to explain: EDF had not built a power plant for fifteen years when the enterprise decides in 2007 to launch the construction of the Flamanville plant. The loss of skills inside its teams as its sub-contractors, in particular the concrete suppliers, have been a handicap difficult to overcoming. The responsibility is Lionel Jospin government one which, after having stopped the Creys-Malville works to give satisfaction to ecologists, would have decided to build the first EPR. The Prime minister did not do it and that did not help him during the 2002 presidential election.

The excessive confidence in the ability of renewable to operate the energy transition comes, itself, from a myth. No country is ready to take risks on the safety of its power supply. So it is necessary to have plants which are kept in operation to cope with the unavoidable intermittencies which, atop of that, comes when we most need power, during the night or in winter. These energies are also the object of a double deceit. Twice more for wind and six to seven more for solar capacities are needed to offer the same production than a thermal or a nuclear power plant. That allows to parade spectacular investment figures but without any link with their real contributions to the production.

The other deceit is about the costs. If we want to benchmark them, it must be included the intermittency costs, i.e. the construction and the maintenance of production units able to operate when renewable are not in capacity to deliver. The amount of energy is so high that it is an illusion to think that one day we will have storage capacities allowing to dispense with these units; it must also be mentioned the costs these storage capacities could represent if they would exist.

The indispensable energy transition must be pragmatic and without ideological considerations, which frequently keep hidden political interests, as the protection of the coal mines in strategic places for the ruling governments, in the former East Germany or in Poland for instance. It must be based on a power mix including intermittent renewable sources and power plants able to operate at any time.

For the countries which do not master nuclear technology, the priority is to close coal power plants and to replace them with natural gas power plants which emit much less CO2 and dangerous particles for respiratory capacities of the inhabitants. The tensions on the markets and the observed prices increase are not there to remain as soon as the current and future production and transport capacities are able to satisfy the demand.

Regarding countries like France which master that technology, we must not wait anymore and we must stop denigrating a technology which brings such a decisive economic and environmental contribution. To succeed in the energy transition, it is advisable to find the good equilibrium between the different consumption and production modes. Nuclear power will play a central role. But each lost year will make this transition slower and more difficult. So it is urgent that everybody takes his own responsibilities.


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