Nuclear power in France: picturing the industry’s future

Nuclear energy plays an essential role in France, generating 75% of its electricity, and continuous troubles at the country’s new Flamanville “third generation” reactor have raised crucial concerns about its function in the future electricity mix and techniques for managing the associated radioactive materials and waste. Building started in 2007, with the last expense approximated at 3.3 billion euros. On October 9 the plant’s operator, EDF, annonced new delays, with expenses now estimated at 12.4 billion euros and the opening pushed back to 2022 – a decade later on than at first set up.

France presently operates 58 pressurized water reactors (PWR), referred to as “second generation”. Nineteen of these reactors were put into operation prior to 1981 and will reach their style service life of 40 years over the next three years. The future of the nuclear market represents a crucial concern, which will most likely have a long lasting result on all market stakeholders – electricity manufacturers, distribution system operators, energy service providers and consumers. This indicates that all French citizens will be affected.

Imagining the future of the nuclear industry

Investment choices regarding the electrical power sector can develop dedications for the nation that will last 10s or even hundreds of years, and this future clearly stays unpredictable. Against this background, positive approaches can assistance plan for the future and identify, even partially, the possible effects of the options we make today.

Such an technique includes very first identifying then evaluating the various possible paths for the future in order to asses them and potentially rank them.

The future of the nuclear industry consists of a fairly large variety of possibilities: it differs according to the development of installed capability and the pace with which new innovations (the EPR innovation that will be utilized in Flamanville, referred to as “third generation”, or RNR technology, referred to as “fourth generation”) are released.

Given the great degree of unpredictability surrounding the future of the nuclear market, research relies on simulation tools; the “electronuclear scenario” represents one of the primary methods. Little recognized by the general public, it varies from the energy circumstances utilized to inform discussions for the Multiannual Energy Plan (PPE). The nuclear circumstance represents a standard structure block of the energy situation and is based on a detailed description of the nuclear centers and the physics that manages them. In practice, energy and nuclear scenarios can enhance one another, with the outcomes of the former representing hypotheses for the latter, and the results of the latter making it possible to examine in greater detail the various courses set out by the previous.

The goal of studying the nuclear scenario is to examine one or several development courses for nuclear facilities from a materials-balance perspective, significance tracking the evolution of radioactive materials (uranium, plutonium, fission products etc.) in nuclear power plants. In basic, it relies on a complex modeling tool that handles a range of scales, both spatial (from primary particle to nuclear power plants) and temporal (from less than a microsecond for particular nuclear reactions to millions of years for certain types of nuclear waste).

Based on a precise meaning of a power plant and its evolution over time, the simulation code determines the advancement of the mass of each aspect of interest, radioactive or otherwise, throughout all nuclear facilities. This information can then serve as the basis for producing more helpful data concerning the management of resources and recycled materials, radiation protection, and so on

Emergence of brand-new players

Long booked to nuclear organizations and operators, the scenario-building process has gradually opened up to academic scientists, driven mainly by the Bataille Law of 1991 and the Birraux Law of 2006 worrying radioactive waste management. These laws resulted in a greater diversity of players involved in producing, assessing and using scenarios.

In addition to the traditional gamers (EDF and CEA in specific), the CNRS and scholastic researchers (primarily physicists and more recently economists) and representatives of civil society have actually taken on these issues by producing their own scenarios.

There have been significant advancements on the user side as well. Whereas prior to the Bataille and Birraux Laws, nuclear problems were discussed nearly specifically in between nuclear operators and the executive branch of the French government, providing rise to the image of concerns restricted to “ministerial secrecy,” these laws have actually allowed for these problems to be resolved in more public and open online forums, in specific in the academic and legislative spheres.

They also developed National Assessment Committees, composed of twelve members selected based on proposals by the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, and the French Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Options. The studies of situations produced by institutional, industrial and academic gamers are examined by these committees and described in yearly public reports sent out to the members of the French parliament.

Opening up this process to a wider variety of players has had an effect on the scenario-building practices, as it has led to a higher variety of scenarios and hypotheses on which they are based.

A range of scenarios

The majority of the circumstances developed by nuclear institutions and market players are “realistic” propositions according to these very same celebrations: circumstances based on feedback from the nuclear industry. They rely on technology already developed or in use and draw mainly on hypotheses supporting the continued use of nuclear energy, with an unchanged set up capability.

The circumstances proposed by the research world tend to give less factor to consider to the commitment of “industrial realism,” and check out futures that interrupt the current system. Examples include research carried out on transmutation in ADS (accelerator-driven reactors), design research studies for MSR (molten salt reactors), which are in some cases described as “exotic” reactors, and studies on the thorium cycle. A 2017 research study also analyzed the effect of recycling the plutonium in reactors of the existing technology, and as part of a strategy to significantly minimize, or even eliminate, the part of nuclear energy by 2050.

These examples show that scholastic situations are typically developed with the goal of deconstructing the dominant discourse in order to foster debate.

Electronuclear situations plainly act as “boundary things”. They supply an chance to bring together various neighborhoods of stakeholders, with various understanding and various, and often opposing, interests in order to compare their visions for the future, organize their methods and even work together. As such, they help widen the “scope of possibilities” and foster innovation through the greater diversity of circumstances produced.

Given the inherent unpredictabilities of the nuclear world, this diversity also appears to be a secret to guaranteeing more robust and trustworthy circumstances, since talking about these scenarios forces stakeholders to justify the hypotheses, tools and criteria utilized to produce them, which are often still implicit.

Debating scenarios

However, figuring out how these various situations can be utilized to assistance “informed” decisions stays questionable.

The intricacy of the system to be modeled needs simplifications, hence providing rise to predispositions which are tough to quantify in the output information. These predispositions affect both technical and economic data and are often rightly used to dispute the results of circumstances and the recommendations they may support.

How, then, can we guarantee that the circumstances produced are robust? There are two opposing methods: Must we try to construct easy or streamlined situations in an effort to make them easy to understand to the general public (especially politicians), at the risk of disregarding crucial variables and leading to “biased” decisions? Or, ought to we produce situations that are complicated, however more loyal to the processes and unpredictabilities involved, at the danger of making them mostly “opaque” to decision-makers, and more broadly, to the residents welcomed to take part in the public argument?

As of today, these circumstances are too-little discussed outdoors of specialist circles. But let us hope that the public dispute on radioactive waste management will offer an exceptional chance to bring these concerns to a greater degree into the “scope of democracy,” in the words of Christian Bataille.


This article was equated from the initial French by the Institut Mines-Télécom and upgraded to show existing events.


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