October 18, 2021

France unveils nuclear power recovery with China in mind.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday the transition to small modular nuclear reactors when he unveiled his 30 billion euros, launching a five-year strategy to boost France’s high-tech sectors, nuclear energy. As such, the country’s history-building analysts have described the technology as extremely promising, especially given the Chinese competition.

Macron. Announced that it has “Number One Priority”. Industrial strategy France will build “modern small-scale nuclear reactors” by 2030.

This marks a turning point in France’s approach. Nuclear energy. The 1974 Mesmer Plan (named after the then Gallagher PM Pierre Mesmer) has made huge investments in nuclear energy since last year. Oil The crisis caused by the OPEC sanctions exposed the fragility of France’s dependence on imported oil. This strategy allows France to derive more than 70% of its energy from nuclear energy, the highest proportion in the world. So far, this is the largest nuclear reactor ever built around large reactors.

Small modular reactors each generate less than 300 MW of energy. Fewer than most of the reactors currently in service, which generate between 950 and 1300 MW, including some of the Fleman well plant. [on the English Channel] It has a capacity of 1,600 MW, said Giorgio Lucatelli, an engineering expert at the Milan Polytechnic.

The components of these small reactors are usually made in a factory assembly line and then transported to the site for assembly, where they can be easily adapted to the specific requirements of the plant.

This approach is expected to make it easier to build nuclear plants – especially after delays in the construction of Flemanville’s Reactor 3 over the past decade. ۔

In the big sweep of French nuclear power history, the shift to smaller reactors looks like a step back, Lucatelli suggested, as France began with smaller reactors in the 1960s before the massive change. Was

However, this trend has now reached its limit. “Uniform reactors at Flemingville are not only very expensive, but their construction is a long and complicated process.” It costs billions to make such plants, and it is often difficult for governments to persuade investors to wait a decade before their returns begin.

Competition against China.

Nicolas Mazzucci, an energy expert at the French Foundation for Strategic Research, said most countries lack the means to generate these large-scale reactors: “The financing models they need – the ability to really mobilize a country Not to mention Know how In this domain – increasingly rare, except in nations like Russia and China where energy companies have full state support.

As a result, the transformation into smaller modular reactors is a strategic axis that allows France to compete with countries such as China, which has increasingly ambitious ambitions for nuclear power.

A change in France’s approach could also allow it to win lucrative new markets. Mzucci added that by 2025, about a quarter of the world’s current nuclear capability will be exhausted because the reactors will be too old.

Another reason why small nuclear reactors can be French export bonanza is that they can be used for other important purposes besides energy production. “It’s a very flexible form of technology,” Lucatelli said.

“These reactors could be used to purify water – a very important task in places like the Middle East and even India – as well as producing hydrogen to heat homes in the colder parts of the world,” Mazzuchi pointed out. To do. ”

In theory, even small reactors are likely to be safer than conventional large reactors. Japan’s Fukushima accident damaged the reputation of nuclear energy in 2011 – then the tsunami in China in July showed that technical problems could affect even the most advanced reactors.

According to the definition, small reactors have “low nuclear content, which theoretically enables them to be safe”, notes Karen Herrio, deputy director in charge of nuclear safety at the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety. What Harvey continued that it could “limit” the release of radioactive material in the event of an accident.

Harvey added that, in particular, procedures designed for small reactors can help operators “get rid of the residual power generated by the reactor after shutdown.” It was the rest of the force that caused the reactor core in Fukushima to melt and during the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in the United States.

‘Lack of experience’

But this is just a theory. The people in charge of reactors using modern technology will have to “justify their safety,” Harvey said.

So far, the theoretical benefits of small modular reactors have not been confirmed in practice. 70 such reactors are currently being developed worldwide – and the majority of these projects are still in the early stages.

“The main concern with this technology is the lack of a track record,” Lucatelli said. What’s more, he continued, the nuclear power “chicken and egg problem still remains: is it better to start building reactors to win buyers first or is it better to find investors first?”

Although the race for smaller modular reactors has just begun, France is “starting late” compared to the United States, Mzucci said. In the Atlantic, regulators have already given the green light to at least one such project – a whole ecosystem of startups is emerging to develop this technology.

However, France has every chance of success. “The big advantage is that its energy sector has already proven itself when it comes to nuclear technology, while the entire supply chain, from uranium mining to the design of reactors, Controls. ” And the country will have a decade to develop its expertise in small nuclear reactors before it can reap the rewards of exports. According to the French Atomic Energy Commission, from 2030 there will be a real market for this type of reactor.

This article has been translated. Original in French.

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