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France, the core on the periphery

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Andrew Blowers

In the fourth of a series of articles on the local and social legacies of nuclear energy, Andrew Blowers looks at La Hague and Bure, two places with a crucial role in the storage and disposal of France's more highly active wastes.

La Hague is on the Cotentin Peninsula, the northernmost tip of Normandy, projecting into the Channel. Within this rugged, windswept, remote area is located a vast nuclear reprocessing complex that separates uranium and plutonium from spent fuel transported in from nuclear reactors scattered around France. The process creates large quantities of highly radioactive wastes (HLW) which are turned into glass blocks stored and ultimately destined for deep geological disposal. Nearby is a surface disposal facility, now closed, where low-level wastes were disposed until a new site, Centre de l'Aube, opened in the Champagne area of eastern France.

Not far away, on the western coast of the Cotentin, sunk into the cliff face, is Flamanville, where the latest nuclear reactor under construction is running long over schedule and well over budget. To the north at the Channel port of Cherbourg is the Arsenal, where submarines for the French nuclear fleet are constructed.

This 'Nuclear Peninsula'1 constitutes the core of the French nuclear industry on the periphery of the country.

Across the country, around 400 miles away in eastern France, in a rolling, rural landscape unremarkable save for the alien intrusion of an isolated scatter of undistinguished modern administrative, hotel and industrial buildings including headworks, is the country's newest nuclear site. Bure, hitherto a tiny hamlet set far from cities and main communications, in la France profonde, has emerged as the location for the Cigéo project, the place where the most highly active wastes from the French nuclear programme may, one day, be buried deep underground.

Bure, like La Hague, is on the periphery, an 'internal periphery' in a relatively empty, expansive landscape on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine, and the departments of Haute Marne and Meuse. Slowly, Bure is in the process of becoming host to the deep geological repository for the disposal of the nation's most dangerous wastes.

Nuclear energy in transition

La Hague and Bure together embody the end of the nuclear cycle, two places on the periphery intertwined by their focal role in the storage and disposal of France's more highly active wastes. France has the second-largest nuclear 'fleet' in the world, with 58 reactors contributing three-quarters of the country's electricity, roughly 40% of the country's total energy output. The industry developed rapidly during the decades after the Second World War in response to French espousal of a technocratic, state-centred conception of excellence. Gabrielle Hecht, in the Radiance of France, has described nuclear as reflecting a concept of radiance, representing modernity expressed through technology as saviour, redeemer and liberator. Nuclear power stations symbolised 'a tremendous spectacle, a drama propelled by scientists and engineers, and a display of national radiance'.2

The French nuclear complex displays a simple, logical geographical pattern. Nuclear reactors, mostly of PWR (pressurised water reactor) design, are sited on the Channel coast, along the country's north-eastern borders and on its major rivers. In the south east, on the Rhone, are the fuel fabrication plants, including a MOX (mixed-oxide fuel) plant, the now closed Superphénix fast breeder reactor, and the first reprocessing works at Marcoule, built to produce plutonium for the French nuclear deterrent.

The cycle is closed by reprocessing, sending plutonium to be made into MOX at Marcoule and vitrifying high-level wastes for storage at La Hague for eventual disposal in eastern France, at the deep repository for high-level wastes at Bure, if it goes ahead. Thus much of France's nuclear cycle passes through La Hague at some point. La Hague, although peripheral in its geographical location, has become the core of the country's nuclear complex.

In principle, the various components – fuel fabrication and enrichment, reactors, reprocessing and waste management – comprise a neatly functioning system. But the coherence and interdependence of the system is increasingly threatened as the nuclear industry faces a number of challenges.

In the first place, nuclear's role in the country's energy mix is now more open to question. Although French support for nuclear energy has been relatively strong, it has hardly been enthusiastic or unequivocal. Two decades ago, two-thirds of the population felt that nuclear power should be maintained at existing capacity but not expanded.

By 2010 a Eurobarometer poll revealed majority support (45% maintain, 12% increase nuclear's role), just before the Fukushima disaster caused a marked downturn. A poll by the World Nuclear News in 2013 showed only around a third supported nuclear, although, perplexingly, over half agreed that nuclear should retain its share in the energy mix.

Opinion on a nuclear phase-out seems divided. Perhaps the best that can be said is that opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy has been roughly evenly divided over the past few years.

A second challenge is political. The election of President Hollande, in the wake of Fukushima, led to a policy reappraisal, including the aim of gradually reducing nuclear's share of electricity supply from three-quarters to half the total by 2025. The policy has since been modified but remains essentially a long-term aim. This responded to two factors: one, a progressive energy transition with the rise of renewables as a cost-effective alternative; the other, the impending decline of nuclear as a result of an ageing nuclear fleet. The delays and technical problems surrounding the new nuclear station under construction at Flamanville and the escalating costs associated with the French reactor project at Hinkley Point in the UK indicate a faltering prospect for nuclear new build.

The fate of new build, coupled with the costs of maintaining the nuclear fleet, reprocessing and impending decommissioning and waste management, has revealed a third challenge: the parlous state of nuclear finances in France. Électricité de France (EDF), the country's nuclear energy supplier, faces a combination of falling revenues and increasing liabilities as it absorbs the loss-making reactor business of Areva (renamed Orano), making it dependent on state support and, in the longer term, revenue from customers in the UK and France paying premium rates for electricity.

All these problems lead to a fourth challenge: the nature of the industry itself as it comes to terms with its declining role and the shift in the balance of its operations from production to the rear end of the nuclear cycle – reprocessing, waste management, and clean up. Above all, the moment of transition raises questions about the purpose and function of reprocessing, at the heart of operations at La Hague.

On the one hand, La Hague has a declining production role. As the French nuclear industry begins to shrink, and as the foreign market for reprocessing has disappeared, the original purpose of the plant is diminishing. The market for MOX fuel is limited to 24 French power stations, leaving a surplus of plutonium and uranium stored at La Hague. On the other hand, La Hague is slowly but surely realising if not, perhaps, fully recognising its purpose as the nation's centre for the management of higher-level wastes. In common with other parts of the nuclear sector, La Hague 'must urgently shift its focus to the maintenance of current reactors and decommissioning and nuclear waste management services'.3

La Hague – adaptation and survival

The rationale for reprocessing spent fuel at La Hague for plutonium and MOX fuel has been sustained by a combination of denial, policy inertia and adaptation to changing circumstances. But, in reality, reprocessing has become an idée fixe, a persistence based more on belief than truth. Yves Marignac of WISE (World Information Service on Energy), a critic of the policy, described the problem to me back in 2004:

'Nothing much changes. But it's like opening Pandora's box – the whole logical construction falls apart. The more the reality becomes different to what you want to believe, the more difficult it is to recognise it.'

And the reprocessing works have, over the years, become embedded in the landscape and the community. The region is described by Zonabend as 'a great plateau consisting of a series of dome-like moors where gorse and broom, heather and bracken are swept by incessant wind'.4 It has an austere beauty with ever-changing weather, a harsh unyielding land where farming and fishing are the traditional occupations.

In such an underdeveloped and remote area located au bout du monde according to Didier Anger, a veteran campaigner, the works evolved during the 1970s, more welcomed than resisted. Anti-nuclear opposition in the area focused on the coastal nuclear plant at Flamanville. At La Hague, too, strikes and demonstrations focused on working conditions and environmental risks. There was opposition to shipments of foreign spent fuel through Cherbourg, and the repatriation of wastes by rail to Germany triggered the mass protests at Gorleben over the years which have had such a profound impact on nuclear policy in that country.5 La Hague, a peripheral location, has been the fountainhead of international protests, with profound repercussions elsewhere along the sea lanes and rail routes that link it to controversial sites elsewhere.

The La Hague reprocessing plant has become increasingly integrated into the traditional local community. It has played a role in the modernisation of the area, reducing its former isolation and bringing high technology and jobs to offset the decline in its manufacturing base centred on the port of Cherbourg. Areva (the company that manages the plant, now renamed Orano) is a dominant economic player, directly employing 5,000 people and with a significant multiplier impact on the economy. There was, in earlier years, a palpable ambiguity in the relationship between the industry and the community, put to me by a trade unionist I interviewed: 'The industry is not necessarily popular... but it is necessary... it would be a catastrophe if it closes.'

Areva has made conscious efforts to overcome the wariness and reserve through a policy of openness and participation, support for investment research, and training to contribute to diversification in the region. La Hague has become an established element in the community; indeed it might almost be said that it has become a traditional part of the landscape in the North Cotentin – so much so that even trenchant anti-nuclear activists like Didier Anger of CRILAN recognise the role of the industry in the region:

'The soup is good and we want more. Yet everyone is fearful of nuclear at the same time. They are stuck between fear of nuclear and fear of the economy. We are all immediatistes.' (Interview, 2013)

Concern about the radioactive risk to the environment has become institutionalised through the CLI (Local Information Commission). Anti- nuclear activities tend to focus on monitoring, and protests over the very presence of the plant and its activities have long since disappeared. Today, it is the continuing presence of the plant that is at issue, although, here too, fears tend to be internalised rather than expressed. There seems to be a reluctance to challenge and an unwillingness to confront the realities of the changing role of reprocessing.

Didier Anger explained the passive acceptance to me: 'Le Cotentin ressemble à l'autruche: elle met la tête dans le sable, elle ne voit pas le chasseur, mais le chasseur lui tire dans les fesses avec son fusil.' ('The Cotentin is like the ostrich. It puts its head in the sand, it doesn't see the hunter, but the hunter fires into its backside with his gun.')

As the nuclear industry in France declines and the original role of reprocessing is questioned, so La Hague will adapt to survive as the centre for management of radioactive waste. It is on that basis that its presence in the Cotentin is secure for the foreseeable future.

Finding a disposal site

Bure is the outcome of a long and contentious process of site selection, the unwitting choice of least resistance. As in other countries, deep geological disposal has become the favoured approach for the long-term management of the most highly active wastes. In France, as elsewhere, the problem was to find a site which could satisfy both geological conditions of safety and social conditions of acceptability.

Early attempts focused on finding suitable geological conditions. During the 1980s four sites with four different rock types were identified: two in western France, in the adjacent departments of Maine-et-Loire (schist) and Deux-Sèvres (granite), one in the north, Aisne (clay), and one in the south east, Ain (salt). In a classic exercise of 'decide-announce-defend-abandon', the sites were revealed to unsuspecting communities, immediately provoking tenacious and resolute opposition and leading in turn to withdrawal of the programme in 1990.

The process of site selection was restarted during the 1990s, this time backed in typical French fashion by the Law on Research in Radioactive Waste Management (1991), which sets out the legislative framework that still governs the process of evaluating and developing approaches. There were three 'axes' of research: one on possibilities of transforming wastes through partitioning and transmutation; another on long-term storage techniques; and a third on evaluating deep-disposal options. The law specified public involvement, including the setting up of a Local Information and Oversight Committee (CLIS).

It was recognised that a successful site selection process would need to satisfy both scientific safety criteria and social acceptability, based on the willingness of local communities. Furthermore, the call for expressions of interest was backed by packages of incentives for economic development.

Site selection was a state-based process led by government through a mediator, Christian Battaille, the architect of the 1991 law and implemented through ANDRA, the national radioactive waste management company. An oversight body of experts, the Commission Nationale d'Evaluation (CNE), provided oversight and advice. Decision- making was partially devolved in a semi-voluntaristic and semi-elitist system of governance. Typically, decision-making was through the representative political institutions of regional, departmental and local governments (communes and mayors). The broader public interest was to be taken into account at national level through public consultations called débats publics (two of which, in 2005-06 and 2013 have been on radioactive waste) and locally through the CLIS, composed of trade unions, business, agriculture, national, regional and local elected representatives, and environmental groups.

The search for candidate sites was narrowed down to eight departments considered potentially suitable in geological terms, half of which were rejected on grounds of potential opposition. Of the remaining four, which had local support, the western site in Vienne was eliminated on the advice of the CNE as too complex geologically, while the southern site in Gard, near the reprocessing works at Marcoule and in silt formations, was regarded as unfavourable geologically and, perhaps more importantly, opposed by the local wine industry, who felt that their labels could be compromised by association with radioactivity. This left the two adjacent departments of Meuse and Haute-Marne astride favourable clay formations and with public and political support to combine in the selection of a single, so-called East site.

Bure – a nuclear no-man's land

According to Professor Jean-Claude Duplessy, President of the CNE, whom I interviewed in 2013, 'Bure is one of the best sites we might imagine in France.' The local geological conditions are optimal, with deep, thick, hard clay with a good hydro- geological gradient in the Callovo-Oxford clay formation which underlies a wide area in this part of eastern France. The precise site was chosen at the border of the two departments, giving each a share in the benefits for economic investment and development put forward in the 1991 law.

Bure is the end of the line, the place where much of the high- and intermediate-level waste from Marcoule and other nuclear sites, and ultimately from La Hague, may eventually be buried. As yet, there are few physical signs of its manifest destiny. In Bure the industry's footprint is growing, although the tranquillity of the region is not yet disrupted.

'Bure is in the middle of nowhere,' according to Gerald Ouzounian of ANDRA, in a 'no-man's land',6 deeply rural with few inhabitants, tiny settlements and small towns – Bar-le-Duc, Joinville and St Dizier – nearby and bigger cities such as Nancy an hour away.

This obscure area is undergoing a gradual transformation as the modern intrudes on the traditional, in the creation of the country's latest nuclear wasteland. But it will be a wasteland only partly visible, for the idea of the project is to bury the wastes in galleries below 500 metres deep in the body of the earth, with engineered and geological containment that will remove it from the surface for hundreds of thousands of years. It is a wasteland silent and invisible, its function at once transcendent and immanent.

Bure is peripheral in terms of its remoteness, a borderland on the edge of geographical, administrative and cultural regions. It is also economically marginal, underdeveloped and sparsely populated – a rural backwater where development is difficult. The underground laboratory has been created and tests have been undertaken to determine the containment properties of the clay, waste disposal methods, monitoring, and security. The repository itself, if it is eventually constructed, will be in a different nearby location, a 'pilot' project receiving some wastes from Marcoule before taking wastes from La Hague towards the end of the century.

In such a peripheral location the project was able to develop almost by stealth, like a thief in the night. There has been a process of narrowing the options. Of the research axes, deep disposal has become the option for long-term management. The favoured geology has become clay and, therefore, Bure has become the favoured location. The first stage of development at Bure was an underground laboratory, a testing ground for technological feasibility. The repository will be developed as a pilot industrial phase in the first instance, and, in the spirit of cautious compromise of the 1991 law, the project will be reversible for around 100 years before closure. 'Thus, and no one had thought of this before, we can now envisage getting rid of the waste without really getting rid of it, since we bury it while being able to reverse the decision at any time.'7

Bure has undergone a metamorphosis over the years, from being one of several possible sites, to a site under investigation, to its present status as an underground laboratory before its future transformation via a pilot phase into a separated, fully fledged deep-disposal facility. Such a gradual evolution from possible to potential to palpable has been achieved with relatively little resistance, from a small local population, acquiescent and passive, accepting of the benefits that go with the project.

Opposition to Cigéo locally is necessarily thin on the ground, and public concerns have tended to be represented through the CLIS. The relationship between community and industry, mediated through the CLIS, has been crucial and creative, although its Secretary-General, Benoit Jacquet, confessed in 2005 that the 'CLIS doesn't have a place in the decision-making process – so it must make its place', which it does through investigations, consultations and raising awareness of issues.

More vigorous and antagonistic opposition has been fomented in typical French fashion through ephemeral 'manifestations', mass rallies organised by anti-nuclear networks drawing on a wider regional base.

More recently opposition has taken a more vigorous turn as opponents have occupied the woodland under which the repository is intended to be built, giving a permanent base for various actions, including damaging the hotel built near the site. The protest settlement was cleared in a confrontation with police in February 2018, while a network of support groups staged protests in other French cities. The insurgency, anarchistic and political, is redolent of the mass protests and confrontations against nuclear power in France in the 1970s. It is set against the erstwhile resignation and patriotic acceptance of this part of eastern France, summed up by Bernard Fauchier of ANDRA: 'We had Verdun, we had Sedan, we are tough people – see what we are ready to do for France.' But, as the project proceeds, so its hitherto relatively untroubled progress will inevitably meet with more resistance as Bure, no longer a backwater, becomes a focus of the conflict over nuclear power.

On the edge but in the frame

La Hague and Bure are two places on the geographical margins but increasingly intertwined as the emphasis of the French nuclear project shifts gradually but inexorably towards the back end of the nuclear cycle – reprocessing, clean-up, and radioactive waste management. La Hague's role is being reinvented as reprocessing of spent fuel moves from producing nuclear materials to vitrifying and storing waste. For the present, La Hague has an accepted role and has become integrated within the local community. By contrast, Bure is at a very early stage in becoming the place where wastes reach their final destination. Industry and community co-exist, but modernity has barely touched the traditional communities that make up this relatively empty landscape.

So, the periphery becomes the centre as the nuclear cycle revolves and resolves the problem of nuclear waste management. There are many social and scientific issues to be resolved before it will be possible to claim that the problem will be solved, if it can ever be. Therefore there is still some way to go before La Hague and Bure can assume their ultimate destinies. France is only now reaching the point where its vast but ageing nuclear fleet will be gradually decommissioned. The future of reprocessing may be open to question, and the repository at Bure is not yet established. But, for a long while to come, inertia is likely to prevail and reinforce these places in their role as guardians of the nation's most dangerous nuclear wastes.


1. As described by Françoise Zonabend in The Nuclear Peninsula. Cambridge University Press, 1993

2. G. Hecht: The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. MIT Press, 1998

3. Y. Marignac and M Besnard: The French Nuclear Industry in Deadlock: The Burden of France's Nuclear Gamble in the Era of the Energy Transition. WISE-Paris, for Greenpeace France, June 2015.

4. F. Zonabend: The Nuclear Peninsula, p. 13 (see note 1)

5. Gorleben and its role in the German nuclear conflict is the focus of the next article in this series
6. B. Cramer and C. Saïsset: La Descente aux Enfers Nucléaires: Mille Milliards de Becquerels dans laTerre de Bure. L'Esprit Frappeur, Paris, 2004
7. M. Callon, P. Lascoumes and Y. Barthe: Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. MIT Press, 2009, p.151

French President announces energy roadmap

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the government's revised energy roadmap on November 27. The plan calls for France to shut its remaining coal-fired power plants by 2022, shut 14 nuclear reactors by 2035, and increase investment in renewables.1

The closure of 14 power reactors will reduce nuclear's share of electricity generation to 50%. France's two oldest reactors ‒ at the Fessenheim plant ‒ will close in 2020, two further reactors will be shut down in 2025/26, two more in 2027/28, and the remaining reactors will close by 2035.2

The new plan replaces the previous, legislated plan to cap nuclear at 63.2 gigawatts capacity and to reduce nuclear's share to 50% by 2025. The new plan will be legislated and may be modified during that process.

The government wants to make a decision about whether or not to support the construction of new reactors by 2021. Macron said he has asked EDF to "work on the development of a new nuclear programme" including issues such as industrial capacity issues, "economic optimisation" of the EPR reactor design (EPR reactors under construction in Flamanville and Finland are three times over budget and years behind schedule), waste management, financing models, and regulatory and legal issues.2 He said France needs EPR technology for "sovereignty issues" and that France must maintain an industrial capacity to build new reactors.3

The new energy roadmap fell short of EDF's expectations: EDF said during the consultation process that it "envisages certain closures" of nuclear reactors "starting 2029".4 And the roadmap fell short of environmentalists' expectations. Alix Mazounie, energy campaigner with Greenpeace France, said: "For the umpteenth time, the government is bowing to the nuclear lobby. This incoherent plan resembles, no more and no less, EDF's plan: to play the watch and preserve nuclear power at all costs. All this by obscuring the reality of the French nuclear fleet: aging, poorly, teeming with anomalies, increasingly expensive and increasingly dangerous."5

Greenpeace France took aim at the Flamanville fiasco, stating that "the Flamanville EPR now has a delay of more than 7 years, very serious manufacturing defects in the heart of the reactor, a bill of more than 10 billion euros and a cost of production twice that of renewable energies."5 Greenpeace France also questioned the technical and economic feasibility of securing license extensions for the aging French nuclear reactor fleet ‒ a program with an estimated price-tag of at least €100 billion ‒ while EDF is already heavily indebted.5

The average age of France's 58 power reactors was 33.4 years in mid-2018.5 French nuclear safety expert Yves Marignac, director of WISE-Paris, noted that by the end of 2035, the 44 reactors that still operate will reach an average age of 49.5 years.6 Energy consultant Mycle Schneider said: "Macron expects that at least three quarters of French nuclear power plants will remain in operation for 50 years or more, an assumption without any technical or regulatory basis."6

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018 said in its September 2018 report: "Operating costs have increased substantially over the past years. Investments for life extensions will need to be balanced against the already excessive nuclear share in the power mix, the stagnating or decreasing electricity consumption in France ‒ it has been roughly stable for the past decade ‒ and in the European Union (EU) as a whole, the shrinking client base, successful competitors, and the energy efficiency and renewable energy production targets set at both the EU and the French levels. ... And in a structural overcapacity situation, like throughout Europe, with still continuously increasing renewable energy capacities, competition will only increase. In fact, it seems impossible to exclude today a scenario, where a significant number of reactors will be shut down, as they cannot compete in the market (just as is already happening in the U.S.)."4

Macron also said that he wants to continue the French plutonium / reprocessing industry. Schneider responded: "The idea that the ailing La Hague facilities could run until 2040 is downright adventurous. It's not even clear whether the evaporators ‒ a central element of the plant ‒ will last until new ones become available." Schneider noted that numerous other countries have abandoned spent fuel reprocessing for economic reasons.6

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018 stated: "Orano (ex-AREVA), in its contribution to the public debate, stipulates that "the number of reactor closures must not exceed the minimum threshold that allows the continued operation of the fuel cycle facilities and to maintain the French technological excellence". An interesting logic: keep operating otherwise not needed power generating plants in order to provide business for otherwise not needed fuel chain facilities. Orano refers here to its plutonium activities, spent fuel reprocessing and uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication. Indeed, the twenty-four 900 MW units licensed to operate with MOX fuel are also amongst the oldest reactors in France. Every MOX-absorbing unit closed, means five percent less plutonium absorption capacity. EDF is now virtually Orano's only client for the La Hague reprocessing plant and buys the vast majority of the MOX fabricated in the MELOX plant in Marcoule."4

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that nuclear power is in slow decline in France, accounting for 71.6% of the country's electricity generation in 2017, the lowest share since 1988 and 7% below the peak of 78.5% in 2005.4 The report noted that "one of the reasons for the continuous decline in nuclear production is the snow-balling effect of ongoing investigations into irregularities in quality-control documentation and manufacturing defects (especially excessive carbon content of steel) of components produced by AREVA's Creusot Forge and a Japanese AREVA sub-contractor, leading to multiple reactor shutdowns, starting in November 2016. The problems continue in 2018. ... In the second quarter of the year, EDF had between 13 and 20 reactors or 14–23 GW off-line (this does not include output reductions), about one third of its fleet, at any point in time."4

EDF restructure

In September 2018, French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot resigned in frustration over what he said was "sluggish progress" on climate goals and nuclear energy policy.3 He said the President was not fulfilling his pledge to cut the share of nuclear power to 50% by 2025 and to boost renewable energy, and that investments made in the nuclear industry, like the very expensive bailout of Areva, slow down the development of a renewable energy sector.

Hulot said last year that EDF's structure might have to change to allow it to embrace a transition towards environmentally friendly energy rather than "resist" it.7 The government plans a restructure of EDF, but it seems the motivation is to prop up the nuclear industry rather than embracing a transition to renewables. The government has asked EDF to make proposals about changes to its structure7, and the government has flagged increasing its 83.7% stake in EDF.8 Reuters reported: "Financial markets have long speculated that EDF's nuclear activities could be put into a separate legal structure and renationalized, which would allow the state to subsidize the business ..."8


Macron announced that support for renewables will increase from the current €5 billion to €7‒8 billion per year with the aim of renewables generating 40% of electricity supply by 2035. The plan is to treble onshore wind capacity (and to develop offshore wind power), and to increase solar PV capacity five-fold (from 8.5 GW to 45 GW) by 2030.1,4

Michèle Rivasi, nuclear power spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said on November 27: "Today's announcement cannot hide the general nuclear agenda of the French government. President Emmanuel Macron talks about 'nouveau nucléaire' such as the Evolutionary Power Reactor that produce much more expensive electricity than renewable energies and are still difficult to control and risky. Mr Macron needs to do far more if he wants a green and social energy transition. It's time to start taxing carbon emissions and making companies pay their fair share towards a cleaner tomorrow. France has a key role to play in the EU meeting its Paris Climate Commitments, and right now the French government needs to be far more ambitious and more radical if we are to avoid climate catastrophe."9

EDF is hedging its bets, pursuing its nuclear agenda while also investing in renewables. EDF's CEO claimed last year that its "renewables and services activities" constitute its "key growth drivers".10 The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018 stated: "EDF's total net installed renewables capacity (excluding large hydro) in the world remains modest with 9.4 GW producing 3 percent of EDF's electricity. However, in December 2017, the group announced a "solar plan" with a target of 30 GW installed over a period of 15 years between 2020 and 2035 for an investment of €25 billion (US$29.5 billion). To put this figure into perspective, China added 53 GW in 2017."4

ADEME report

France's environment ministry ADEME released a report finding that France will save €39 billion (US$44.5 billion) if it refrains from building 15 new nuclear plants by 2060, and instead replaces reactors with renewable energy sources.11

France should spend €1.28 trillion over the next four decades, the report states, mostly on clean power production and storage capacities, networks, and imports. If it does this, France would progressively shut down its 58 reactors and renewable energy would comprise 85% of electricity generation by 2050 and 95% by 2060, up from 17% last year.12

Bloomberg reported: "Falling costs means that photo-voltaic facilities won't need subsidies from 2030, nor will onshore wind from 2035, the [ADEME] report said. That's assuming that EDF halts 30 percent of its reactors after 40 years of operation and an additional 30 percent when they turn 50. Otherwise, surplus production capacity would undermine the economics of both nuclear power and renewables, ADEME said. The study doesn't take into account the impact on jobs, industry and the environment. However, "we're expecting job creations in renewables and energy efficiency to largely make up for job losses in the nuclear industry," said ADEME Chairman Arnaud Leroy."12

ADEME is sceptical about the future of EPR nuclear technology. Reuters reported:13

""The development of an EPR-based nuclear industry would not be competitive," ADEME said, adding that new nuclear plants would be structurally loss-making. Building a single EPR in 2030 would require 4 to 6 billion euros of subsidies, while building a fleet of 15 with a total capacity of 24 gigawatt-hour by 2060 would cost the state 39 billion euros, despite economies of scale that could bring down the EPR costs to 70 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh), ADEME said.

"Renewables costs could fall to between 32 and 80 euros/MWh, depending on the technology, by 2060. But extending the existing fleet too long, while also building new EPRs, would lead to overcapacity, compromising returns on all generation assets, including renewables. EDF ‒ which generates about 75 percent of French electricity with 58 nuclear reactors ‒ declined to comment.

"The ADEME report, which studied energy mix scenarios for 2020-2060, said renewables could account for 85 percent of power generation by 2050 and more than 95 percent by 2060, except if the government pushes through the EPR option anyway. The gradual increase of renewables capacity could reduce the pre-tax electricity cost for consumers ‒ including generation, grids and storage ‒ to about 90 euros per MWh, compared to nearly 100 euros today, ADEME said. ...

"In 2015, a ADEME study suggesting that France could switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 at a cost similar to sticking with nuclear was barred from publication for months by the government."


1. Joshua S. Hill, 28 Nov 2018, 'France turns to wind and solar as it plans to exit coal, and phase down nuclear',

2. World Nuclear Association, 27 Nov 2018, 'Macron clarifies French energy plans',

3. Dan Yurman, 2 Dec 2018, 'Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?',

4. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018',

5. Greenpeace France, 27 Nov 2018, 'EPP / SNBC: decryption of Greenpeace France',

6. Georg Blume, 1 Dec 2018, 'Macron, the nuclear lobbyist', and

7. Financial Times, 27 Nov 2018,

8. Reuters, 27 Nov 2018, 'EDF restructuring expected as France reduces reliance on nuclear',

9. EU Reporter, 28 Nov 2018,

10. EDF, "Half-Year Results 2017", Conference call Jean-Bernard Lévy with Analysts and Investors, 28 July 2017, cited in Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018',

11. ADEME, 10 Dec 2018, 'Étude : Quelle Trajectoire D'évolution du #Mix #Électrique Français D'ici 2060?',

12. Francois De Beaupuy, 11 Dec 2018, 'France Would Save $44.5 Billion by Betting on Renewable Energy, Agency Says',

13. Geert De Clercq / Reuters, 11 Dec 2018, 'Building new nuclear plants in France uneconomical - environment agency',

French Parliamentary Commission issues critical report on nuclear industry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

A French parliamentary commission, set up in January 2018 to look at the safety and security of nuclear installations, says in a report published on July 5 that nuclear plants remain vulnerable to accident and attack.1

"French nuclear installations seem to suffer from an original flaw that will be difficult to remedy: they were not designed to withstand terrorist-like aggression," the commission says. Its report identifies several risks including plane crashes, drone incursions, internal sabotage, external intrusions and cyber attacks.

EDF said in a statement that it is committed to "a process of continuous improvement".2 However the evidence suggests that EDF has been slow to act. The parliamentary commission was established in part in response to a series of Greenpeace actions highlighting inadequate security at nuclear plants. According to the commission, Greenpeace has conducted 14 intrusion attempts in order to demonstrate the vulnerability of French nuclear sites over the past 30 years. And on July 3, Greenpeace once again demonstrated inadequate security by flying drones into the Bugey nuclear power plant and crashing one of them into the spent fuel building.3,4

To reduce security risks, the commission recommends:

  • Putting more police on the ground at nuclear sites.
  • Reducing the predictability of transporting radioactive material by adjusting departure dates and times, and itineraries where possible.
  • Creating a parliamentary delegation for civilian nuclear power whose members (four deputies and four senators) would have de jure access to classified information on security and safety matters.


The commission says the number of safety incidents in France "has risen steadily", citing as examples last year's temporary shutdown of the four reactors at a plant in Tricastin, and an explosion in the non-nuclear section of the Flamanville power plant. The commission also discusses the long-running quality-control scandal at AREVA's Creusot Forge plant involving manufacturing flaws and falsification of documentation.

The commission highlights the risks associated with outsourcing in the nuclear industry, noting that 80% of tasks, both for operation and maintenance, are outsourced to contractors. This leads to a loss of competence within EDF. The report blames the fall of a 450-tonne steam generator during maintenance at the Paluel 2 reactor on problems with cooperation between EDF and its subcontractors (the reactor has been offline since the May 2015 incident). One of the commission's recommendations is to reduce reliance on subcontractors.

EDF's pipe-welding fiasco at its partially-built Flamanville EPR reactor, first revealed in February 2018, also illustrates the subcontracting problem. An estimated 35% of the pipe welds that connect the steam generator to the turbine have defects. The commission notes that this problem has significant consequences in terms of cost, schedule and safety.

The commission criticizes the industry's "ruling out rupture" concept ‒ the assumption that malfunctioning can be ruled out for some key nuclear components. "There are no emergency procedures for certain types of accidents because they are assumed to be impossible," it says.

The commission recommends accelerating the implementation of evacuation plans to replace current plans, which are limited to the closest residents.


The commission says France's Cigeo deep geologic repository project in Bure, northeastern France, has "certain vulnerabilities" including the risk of an underground fire that cannot be contained. It recommends continuing to study the option of long-term subsurface storage as a possible alternative to geological disposal.

The commission questions, on safety grounds, the heavy reliance on pool storage of spent nuclear fuel (including EDF's proposed centralized pool project). It recommends that dry storage should to be considered whenever possible, and that as much spent fuel as possible should be transferred from pool storage to dry storage.

The commission raises a series of concerns about spent fuel reprocessing and says that relevant parties should consider whether or not to continue reprocessing.


The commission recommends strengthening the powers of the French nuclear regulator, the ASN, and giving it (like most of its foreign counterparts) powers of injunction and sanctions.

The commission also recommends that ASN should be asked to apply its legal powers and to impose pecuniary sanctions and financial constraints when its decisions are not respected by nuclear operators. 

And the commission recommends that ASN publish the schedule for monitoring prescriptions as well as the amount of fines and financial penalties.


The commission raises familiar problems about unrealistically low estimates of the cost of decommissioning France's aging fleet of reactors, and inadequate provisions for decommissioning. It recommends establishing a national commission responsible for the control and supervision of decommissioning expenses, expenses related to waste management, and expenses arising from accidents. The commission also recommends that nuclear operators should be required to ensure that provisions for decommissioning are sufficiently liquid.


1. National Assembly, 28 June 2018, Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Safety and Security of Nuclear Facilities,

2. NucNet, 6 July 2018, 'Commission Calls For Safety Improvements At France's Nuclear Power Stations',

3. Geert De Clercq, 3 July 2018, 'Greenpeace crashes Superman-shaped drone into French nuclear plant',


French nuclear scandal

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Pete Roche

EDF, Areva and the French nuclear regulator ASN have known since at least 2005 that Areva's Creusot Forge factory was not capable of producing nuclear safety compliant components. Yet the factory has been allowed to continue manufacturing components which have now been found to contain anomalies, including the bottom and lid for the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for the EPR at Flamanville.1

France Inter, the French Radio Station which broke the news commented that: "Never before has the French nuclear industry suffered such a scandal. And this case challenges the entire chain of control of a sector already shaken by the Fukushima disaster."2

The Creusot Forge is under investigation by ASN after it was discovered to have produced potentially defective parts and substandard safety reports for reactors around the world. But the letters from 2005 and 2006 ‒ obtained by France Inter – show that EDF and Areva were told by the ASN about "numerous incidents" at the facility, including "discrepancies during inspections". This will raise serious concerns about EDF and Areva's new nuclear project at Hinkley Point.3

In December 2005, ASN sent a letter to EDF alerting it to the deplorable condition of the Le Creusot plant, which was experiencing major malfunctions. Yet the lid and bottom for the RPV for the Flamanville EPR were manufactured by the Creusot Forge, in Burgundy, between September 2006 and December 2007. In August 2006 ASN asked Areva to demonstrate that the steel for these two parts was homogeneous. For seven years, letters were exchanged between ASN and Areva, but no analysis was carried out. On 24 January 2014 the RPV arrived at Flamanville, and was placed in the reactor building. Nine months later Areva finally did some tests and discovered that the bottom and the lid had abnormalities.

"The steel should normally contain 0.2% carbon," explains Yves Marignac, of WISE Paris, but the concentration was 0.3%, enough to modify the mechanical properties of the steel and, in particular, to influence the temperature at which it becomes less supple and more brittle.4

The regulator ‒ ASN ‒ has been seriously at fault, according to the Observatoir du Nucleaire, since it has said nothing for many years about the criminal practices at Le Creusot. It says ASN is no less guilty than Areva and EDF because, although it was fully aware of the serious problems, it authorized EDF to install the pressure vessel in the EPR at Flamanville in December 2013. It is clear, says the Observatoir du Nucleaire website, that ASN is not able to withstand pressure from EDF and politicians who accuse them of seriously harming the industry if they enforce safety regulations.5

Following the discovery of manufacturing irregularities and the falsification of documents at Areva's Creusot Forge foundry last year, French nuclear regulator ASN and several other international regulators inspected the site in early December. ASN said Le Creusot is not up to the job and did not have the right equipment to produce the parts for the nuclear reactors. "Creusot Forge is at the limit of its technical capacity," ASN said. "The tools at its disposal are not adequate to manufacture such huge components. In such a situation, errors are made."6

EDF's oversight of Areva, which will supply the Hinkley Point C reactors, was questioned in an internal document by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). In an ONR report about the visit dated 16th December 2016, disclosed under a Freedom of Information request, ONR said the nuclear safety culture at Creusot fell short of expectations and warned about the implications for Hinkley Point C. ONR said it has since decided to implement a series of additional inspections of EDF and its supply chain to ensure all components are manufactured to the required standard.

The ONR report said after an inspection in late 2016, that an international team from France, Canada, the United States, China, Finland and Britain had concluded that the nuclear safety culture at Le Creusot Forge foundry fell short of what regulators expect from a major supplier of nuclear equipment. It added that improvement measures ordered by ASN were not yet effective and said despite the prohibition of the use of correction fluid on documents at the foundry, the inspectors found evidence of its continued use.7

EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz says there will be "no impact" on Hinkley Point C from issues at Le Creusot. He said the RPV would be made "at the right place and right time", declining to give further details.8 A spokesman for EDF said: "Steel forgings for Hinkley Point C will be manufactured to the most stringent nuclear standards which are reviewed and assessed by ONR. EDF Energy also has its own inspection and quality assurance programme to provide the required confidence that the components manufactured by Areva for Hinkley Point C meet those exacting standards."9

Reprinted from nuClear news No.94, April 2017,


1. Energydesk, 31 March 2017,
2. France Inter, 31 March 2017,
3. Energydesk, 31 March 2017,
4. France Info, 31 March 2017,
5. Nuclear Observer, 31 March 2017,
6. Reuters, 16 March 2017,
7. Reuters, 24 March 2017, and
Guardian, 24 March 2017,
8. Reuters, 29 March 2017,
9. Guardian, 24 March 2017,

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #838 - 21 February 2017

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Banning nuclear weapons in 2017

In one of its final acts of 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution to begin negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This historic decision heralds an end to two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts. The new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will strengthen the global norms against using and possessing these weapons. It will spur long-overdue progress towards disarmament.

Eliminating the nuclear threat has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. But international efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the build-up and modernisation of their nuclear arsenals. More than 20 years have passed since multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations took place.

Experience shows that the prohibition of a particular type of weapons provides a solid legal and political foundation for advancing its elimination. Weapons that are outlawed are increasingly seen as illegitimate, losing their political status, and, along with it, the resources for their production, modernisation and retention.

The treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will complement existing bans on other indiscriminate and inhumane weapons, and reinforce existing legal instruments on nuclear weapons, such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, regional nuclear-weapon-free zones, and the treaty banning nuclear test explosions. It will strengthen the global taboo against the use and possession of nuclear weapons.

Negotiations on the treaty will begin on March 27 for one week, continuing for another three weeks in June-July. This breakthrough in nuclear disarmament negotiations has come about in the wake of three conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. A growing global movement of nations are ready to declare nuclear weapons illegal for all. The negotiations are open to all, and blockable by none.

Contact your Foreign Minister and urge your Government to participate constructively in the upcoming negotiations. It’s time to make nuclear weapons illegal.

‒ Gem Romuld

Forest occupation, protests and attacks on the CIGEO nuclear research laboratory in Bure, northeast France

Autonomous Bure Media Collective:

Saturday 18 February ‒ Anti-nuclear protest actions took place today in Bure, northeast France. First a demo in the forest to support its occupation and then at the planned CIGEO nuclear research laboratory. Part of the wall illegally erected in the forest by ANDRA, the French national radioactive waste management agency, was more or less symbolically broken down.

More than 700 people took part in the February 2017 action says in Bure, peaking in the late afternoon today with fierce clashes and massive attacks. For more than a year resistance by the anti-nuclear movement has obstructed CIGEO's dump project. Despite forced evictions, wall construction and juridical attacks and counter-attacks, the occupation is holding and protest against the project is growing, including beyond the region. In recent days there have been manifestations of solidarity in other towns – hundreds of people came to today's action.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays there have been night actions and attacks on the laboratory and its greenwashing department, causing considerable damage to the barriers, which were partly replaced by razor wire. This afternoon a large force of cops prevented an advance right to the buildings. But during a battle lasting several hours, large parts of the remaining fence, reinforcement materials, dead trees and much more were expertly assembled into barricades. Whereas the cops almost incessantly hurled tear-gas and dispersion grenades, for more than two hours many determined protesters attacked the lackeys of nuclear capital. Several people were injured on both sides and there were at least three arrests.

In the coming week and during this spring several decisive court cases are slated. Support the forest squat, dare to come to Bure! Prevent the atomic loo in Bure, break atom firms everywhere!

South Korea: Wolsong NPP lifespan extension cancelled

On February 7, the Seoul Administrative Court cancelled the decision of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) to extend the lifespan of Wolsong-1, the second oldest reactor in Korea. Wolsong-1 was supposed to be shut down in 2012 when it reached its design life of 30 years. However, NSSC approved a lifespan extension in Feb. 2015 so that it could operate to 2022.

2166 people, including civil society and local people living close to nuclear power plants, filed a petition to have the lifespan extension invalidated. After 12 trials in total, on-the-spot investigation, and witness examination, it has been confirmed that the lifespan extension permit for Wolsong-1 is improper and should be cancelled. The NSSC shortly after announced its plan to appeal the ruling and will keep operating Wolsong-1 during the appeals process.

The delegates of plaintiffs presented diverse evidence that the NSSC didn't submit a comparison chart showing the facilities and parts before and after the change, did not apply the latest technology standard in the safety assessment, and made a decision which involved two members disqualified from the commission.

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) demands the suspension of operation of Wolsong-1 and for the resignation of the chair of the NSSC. KFEM executive director Yang Yi Won-young said the Court ruling "clearly shows that the NSSC has arbitrarily applied related law without any consideration for public safety while giving out too many permits to expand lifespan of old nuclear power plants and build new ones with the nuclear industry, that is Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power."

‒ Hye Lyn Kim

EDF and decentralised energy

Les Echos, the French business newspaper, carried an extraordinary article from a Senior Vice President of EDF, the largely state-owned French utility that will build the nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in England. Mark Boillot contends that 'large nuclear or thermal power plants designed to function as baseload are challenged by the more flexible decentralized model'. He says that the centralised model of power production is dying, to be replaced by local solar and wind, supplemented by batteries and intelligent management of supply and demand. Not only will this be cheaper in the long run but customers are actually prepared to pay more for solar electricity and actively work to reduce usage at times of shortage. His conclusion is that 'the traditional model must adapt to the new realities, thus allowing the utilities to emerge from ... hypercentralized structures in a world that is becoming more and more decentralized'. In most jurisdictions Mr Boillot would have been asked to clear his desk. What will EDF do about one of its most senior people openly forecasting the end of the large power station as it tries to raise the ten billion euros necessary to pay for its share of Hinkley?

‒ Carbon Commentary Newsletter, 19 Feb 2017,

‒ Les Echos article:

Taxpayers face bill for nuclear crisis

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Paul Brown

The liabilities of Électricité de France (EDF) − the biggest electricity supplier in Europe, with 39 million customers − are increasing so fast that they will soon exceed its assets, according a report by an independent equity research company,

Bankruptcy for EDF seems inevitable − and if such a vast empire in any other line of business seemed to be in such serious financial trouble, there would be near-panic in the workforce and in governments at the subsequent political fall-out.

But it seems that the nuclear-dominated EDF group1 is considered too big to be allowed to fail. So, to keep the lights on in western Europe, the company will have to be bailed out by the taxpayers of France and the UK.

The French government, facing elections next spring, and the British, struggling with the implications of the Brexit vote to leave the European Union, are currently turning a blind eye to the report by AlphaValue that EDF has badly under-reported its potential liabilities.2

Aging nuclear reactors

While EDF is threatening to sue people who say it is technically bankrupt, the evidence is that the cost of producing electricity from its aging nuclear reactors is greater than the market price.

Coupled with the impossibility of EDF paying the full decommissioning costs of its reactors, it is inevitable that it is the taxpayers in France and the UK who will eventually pick up the bill.

There is also the ongoing thorny problem of disposing of the nuclear waste and spent fuel rods, which are building up in cooling ponds and stores on both sides of the Channel, with no disposal route yet in sight.

A looming problem for EDF, which already admits is has €37 billion of debt, is that 17 of its aging fleet of nuclear reactors, which provide 70% of France's electricity, are being retired.

According to AlphaValue, EDF has underestimated the liabilities for decommissioning these reactors by €20 billion. Another €33.5 billion should be added to cost of handling nuclear waste, the report says.

Juan Camilo Rodriguez, an equity analyst who is the author of the report, says that a correct adjustment of nuclear provisions would lead to the technical bankruptcy of the company.

In a statement, EDF said it "strongly contests the alleged accounting and financial analyses by the firm AlphaValue carried out at the request of Greenpeace and relating to the situation of EDF".

It says that its accounts are audited and certified by its statutory auditors, and that the dismantling costs of EDF's existing nuclear power fleet have also been subject to an audit mandated by the French Ministry of the Environment, Energy and the Sea.

Even with its huge debts, EDF's problems could be surmounted if the company was making big profits on its electricity sales, but the cost of producing power from its nuclear fleet is frequently greater than the wholesale price.

That creates a second problem − that unless the wholesale price of electricity rises and stays high, the company will make a loss on every kilowatt of electricity it sells.

The new right-wing French presidential candidate, François Fillon, promises not to retire French reactors and to keep them going for 60 years. But this cannot be done without more cost.

This is the third problem: vast sums of capital are needed to refurbish EDF's old nuclear fleet for safety reasons following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

New nuclear stations

Even more money is required to finish new nuclear stations EDF is already committed to building. The first, Flamanville in northern France, is five years late and billions over budget. Questions over the quality of the steel in its reactor are still not resolved, and it may never be fully operational.

Add to that the need for €12 billion capital to complete the two nuclear stations EDF is committed to building at Hinkley Point in southwest England, and it is hard to see where all the money will come from.

To help the cash-strapped company, its ultimate owner, the French state, has already provided €3 billion in extra capital this year, and decided to forego its shareholder dividend. But that is a drop in the ocean.

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent international consultant on energy and nuclear policy, says: "The French company overvalues its nuclear assets, and underestimates how much it will cost to decommission them.

"However, EDF's biggest problem is the cost of producing power from these aging power stations. The cost is greater than the wholesale price, so everything they sell is at a loss. It is impossible to see how they can ever make a profit."

He says that is not the company's only problem: France has not dealt with the problem of nuclear waste, and has badly underestimated the cost of doing so.

Schneider says: "With German electricity prices going down and production increasing in order to export cheap electricity to France, it is impossible to see how EDF can ever compete. It is really staggering that no one is paying any attention to this."

Even former EDF director Gérard Magnin agrees. He resigned from the board in July as he thought the Hinkley Point project too risky for the company because of its already stretched finances. Now he says that, with the reactors closed for safety checks, the French nuclear industry faces "its worst situation ever".3

The company's troubles do not stop in France, as EDF also owns the UK nuclear industry. Ironically, it took over 15 reactors in the UK after British Energy went bankrupt in 2002 because the cost of producing the electricity was greater than the wholesale price4 − exactly the situation being repeated now in France.

Repeated life extensions

Since the sale of UK nuclear plants to EDF in 2008 at a cost £12.5 billion5, the company has continued to operate them, and has repeatedly got life extensions to keep them running.

But this cannot go on forever, and they are expected to start closing in the next 10 years. Once this happens, the asset value of each station would become a liability, and EDF's mountain of debt would get bigger.

So far, the French and UK governments, and the company itself, seem to be in denial about this situation. Although 17 French reactors are currently shut down for safety checks, the company has issued reassuring statements that they will be back to full power after Christmas.

Meanwhile, to make up the shortfall from the closed reactors, electricity is being bought from neighbouring countries to keep the lights on in France, temporarily causing an increase in wholesale prices. The future remains unpredictable − but as long as there are no actual power cuts, no action is expected from governments.

Despite official denials, the calculations of many outside the industry suggest that it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes.

The cost of producing electricity from renewables is still falling, while nuclear gets ever more expensive, and massive liabilities loom. Ultimately, the bill will have to be passed on to the taxpayers.

Reprinted from Climate News Network,







In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear activists jailed in Belarus for protesting deal with Russia.
One of the few remaining countries that claims the nuclear renaissance is real is Russia. The renaissance is not so real at home, where the number of planned nuclear power stations always looks impressive, but actual construction slows down. So, Russia looks to the outside world to push new reactors. On July 18 in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, the Russian and Belarusian officials signed a general contract on the joint project that envisions Russia’s Rosatom building a 2,400-MW nuclear power plant in the Belarusian town of Ostrovets in Grodno Region. The contract specified start of operation of Ostrovets unit 1 in November 2018 and unit 2 in  July 2020. A price tag of US$10 billion was put on the turnkey project to build the two NPP-2006 model VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors and all associated power plant  infrastructure.
Several journalists and environmentalists who are critical of the plan wanted to give him a petition. Even before they were on their way to the Russian Embassy in Minsk to deliver the petition, Russian nuclear physicist and journalist Andrey Ozharovsky and his Belarussian colleague and organizer of the petition Tatjana Novikova were arrested. Both were convicted that same day, Ozharovsky was given 10 days in jail and Novikova five days. They were accused of "hooliganism." The only witnesses called were the police people who arrested them. They said Ozharovsky and Novikova had screamed foul language that was audible further than 50 meters away. Well, "hooliganism" is the new magic word to persecute unwelcome political activism in current Belarus and Russia, just remember the members of punkgroup Pussy Riot who are facing a 7-year jail sentence for playing an anti-Putin song at the altar of one of Moscow's main cathedrals. Furthermore, new legislation in Russia oblige nongovernmental groups that receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents" or risk heavy fines and jail time.
Bellona, 13 July 2012 / WNN, 19 July 2012 / Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace blog, 21 July 2012

Renewables to rescue Areva?
Areva's renewable energy division contributed positive operating cash flow for the first time in the first half of this year, highlighting the emerging importance of green energy to the French group as it looks to improve its cash position and pursue costcutting measures. Revenues from the Renewable Energies division hiked four-fold on the year to Eur253 million (US$308.7 million), on growth in offshore wind, solar and biomass sectors, helping drive up group revenues by 8.3% to Eur4.3 billion. "It's an encouraging sign because we know that renewable energy can contribute to the cash generation objective that we have in general for the group," Chief Financial Officer Pierre Aubouin said July 26 at the company's results presentation. The group has undergone a slim-lining program following costly delays for the construction of third-generation nuclear plants, while the Fukushima nuclear disaster has substantially dented the commercial prospects for nuclear reactor makers. "Ongoing efforts begun in late 2011 to reduce operating costs, with savings measures at the end of June 2012 implemented for nearly 20% of the objective set for the group through 2015, on an annual basis, another 45% of the objective being secured in addition," chief executive Luc Oursel said. The group, which also suffered from major write-downs on its uranium mining assets, still believes that nuclear is to remain a reliable source of energy on a long term, notably in Asia. 
Shares in Areva over the past 12 months have lost more than 55% of their value on the worries related to the impact of Fukushima on the group's outlook, as well as the massive write-down on the mining assets.
Areva, press release, 26 July 2012 /, 26 July 2012 / Platts, 27 July 2012 

Lithuania: Referendum on new nuclear power plant.
On July 16, Lithuanian Parliament decided that there will be a referendum about Visaginas Nuclear  Power Plant project. Text of the referendum will be: "I approve construction of the new nuclear power plant in Lithuania" Yes/No. Sixty-two lawmakers voted in favour of the opposition proposal to hold the referendum, which will not be binding, in tandem with the Baltic state's general election on October 14, while 39 were against and 18 abstained. "Visaginas nuclear power plant will be built on Lithuanian land, with increased danger, therefore we must ask the opinion of the Lithuanian people," said opposition Social Democrat Birute Vesaite. Lithuania's governing Conservatives opposed the referendum plan, accusing the opposition of simply seeking pre-election political gains. The government will not be bound by the results of the referendum, but the vote may add uncertainty to the already-sluggish nuclear project, which lacks strong support from opposition parties that lead the election polls.
At the end of 2009, Lithuania closed its only nuclear power plant, located near Visaginas in the northeast. The shutdown was one of the terms of Lithuania's 2004 admission to the European Union. A referendum on extending the old plant until a new one was ready was held alongside the last general election in 2008, but while 89 percent voted in favour, turnout was only 48 percent, rendering it invalid. 
Now a new wave of propaganda and information about nuclear power is expected. But it is impossible to speak of a level playing field for pro and anti-nuclear organizations, considering the differences in financial means.
AFP, 16 July 2012

Olkiluoto-3 delayed indefinitely.
Finnish electricity company TVO says the Olkiluoto 3 EPR nuclear reactor will not be ready by the latest deadline of 2014 and a new timetable has not yet been set. Olkiluoto 3, originally due to be ready by 2009, is being built by French nuclear company Areva and German  engineering giant Siemens. In a statement, TVO said it was "not pleased with the situation" although solutions to various problems were being found one by one and work was "progressing". It said it was waiting for a new launch date from Areva and Siemens. Work on the site in south-west Finland began in 2005 but has been hit by repeated delays and has run way over budget. TVO has disagreed with the Areva/Siemens consortium over who is responsible for the delays. On July 16, it cited delays in automation system engineering and installation works.
The International Chamber of Commerce's arbitration court is processing the dispute on cost overruns between the consortium and TVO.
A similar project in Flamanville in northern France is itself running four years behind schedule.
China looks set to be the first country to operate an EPR reactor with one due to enter service in 2013. China is building two such reactors at Taishan in the south-east of the country with the first due to enter service at the end of next year and the second a year later.
On August 11, people are going to block the roads to Olkiluoto nuclear power plant in Eurajoki. Previous years have seen people blocking the roads using banners, drumming, performances and peaceful civil disobedience.
BBC, 16 July 2012 / Reuters, 16 July 2012 /

Japan: founding Green Party shows strong anti-nuclear feeling.
While a second reactor (Ohi-4) was restarted and resumed supplying to the grid on July 20, anti- nuclear sentiment is still growing. Anti-nuclear campaigners in Japan have launched the country's first green party. Greens Japan, created by local politicians and activists, hopes to satisfy the legal requirements to become an officially recognised political party in time for the general election, which must be held by next summer but could come much earlier. The party said it would offer voters a viable alternative to the two main parties, the ruling Democratic party of Japan and the minority opposition Liberal democratic party [LDP] both supported the nuclear restart. Akira Miyabe, Greens Japan's deputy leader, said voters had been deprived of the chance to support a party that puts nuclear abolition and other green policies at the top of its agenda. "We need a party that puts the environment first," he said at a launch event in Tokyo. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear protest is continuing. The Friday evening demonstration in Tokyo usually attracts over 100.000 people and a human chain against the Diet building on Sunday July 29 again brought ten of thousands to the streets. In a rare move by a former Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama joined a anti-nuclear demonstration outside his old office on July 19, another sign that the ruling party he once led is fracturing over energy and other policies. Also in other Japanese cities regularly demonstration take place.
ReUters, 20 & 21 July 2012 / Guardian, 30 July 2012 / Website Metropolitans against nukes 

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear power? No way!
Olkiluoto Blockade Camp 6th - 13th August 2012

Olkiluoto Blockade Camp in Eurajoki, western Finland, will bring together people from the anti-nuclear movements in Finland and internationally. The camp will be an opportunity to discuss nuclear power projects, including uranium mining, and to share experiences, skills and tools for struggles against the nuclear energy industry and for encouraging truly sustainable, decentralized forms of energy.     

On August 11, Olkiluoto Blockade action day, people are invited to come and block the roads to the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant by civil disobedience. Year 2012 will mark the third annual blockade. Previous years have seen people blocking the roads using banners, drumming, performances and peaceful civil disobedience. You can join the demonstration in any way you like, with no obligation to participate in civil disobedience.

The Olkiluoto power plant consists of two reactors owned by Teollisuuden Voima (TVO). Additionally, TVO and French Areva are currently building a third reactor, which will be the world's largest and first EPR reactor. Despite the countless problems with the EPR's construction so far, the Finnish parliament has granted the company a license to build a fourth reactor at the site. Another pioneer project in Olkiluoto is Onkalo ("the Cave"), the world's first permanent underground storage for highly radioactive waste.   

Nuclear power cannot solve the climate crises, but rather it feeds the economic system where short-term profit-making sacrifices common safety and environmental issues.  

While many European countries are phasing out nuclear power after the disaster in Fukushima, the Finnish government is grasping the opportunity to increase nuclear power production in Finland. Join us in action and send a strong message to the state and the industries: you will not turn Finland into a nuclear power reservation! Uranium mining, nuclear power plants and waste disposal projects will be met with growing and determined resistance, on a local and international level.       
Get more information, or give your ideas for the program at

RWE abandoning nuclear power (well…, new construction). 
RWE AG, Germany's second-biggest utility, is abandoning plans to build new nuclear power plants outside its home market, where the government decided last year to phase out nuclear power. "We will not invest in new nuclear power plants," incoming Chief Executive Peter Terium said. Like E.ON and peer EnBW, RWE had to close nuclear power plants after Fukushima and by the German government's decision to phase out nuclear power generation, which, actually was a turn back to the year 2000 phase out schedule. "We can no longer afford the financial risks and the surrounding conditions for nuclear power plants." 
Meanwhile, RWE is one of the four German utilities that are going to the Federal Constitutional Court  (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in order to get a 15 billion euro 'compensation' for the nuclear phase out. Remember: the same four utilities agreed to this phase out plan on June 14, 2000. The Court will examine the compensation claims in the coming weeks. Its decision is not expected until late 2013, after Germany's next federal parliamentary election. It will first consult with both houses of the German parliament as well as 63 other organizations, including Greenpeace and the Federation of German Industry (BDI). The constitutional court must then decide whether Germany's exit from nuclear energy violated the constitution before civil courts can rule on possible damages.
Deutsche Welle, 13 June 2012 / Reuters 17th June 2012 

Siemens can return to nuclear in 2012, EC rules. The European Commission has closed an antitrust investigation of the arrangement that prevents Siemens from selling nuclear products and services, following its withdrawal from the Areva NP business. The Commission has accepted an agreement between the two companies to allow Siemens to sell core products and services later this year. In 2001, Areva and Siemens created the joint venture Areva NP and agreed on a specific non-compete obligation. This obligation was meant to apply for up to 11 years beyond the duration of the joint venture itself. The joint venture came to an end following Siemens' exit in 2009, when Areva acquired sole control over Areva NP. In December 2011, the European Commission expressed concerns that the non-compete obligation and a confidentiality clause may infringe EU antitrust rules. In response to the Commission's concerns, Siemens and Areva offered commitments. They agreed to limit the duration of the clause to three years following Areva's acquisition of sole control over Areva NP in relation to the joint venture's core products and services. They also agreed to remove it completely for all other products and services. The same commitments apply to the confidentiality clause.
Now, the European Commission has made these commitments legally-binding after market-testing them, and has closed its investigation. However, Siemens' next move is unclear, as it publicly announced in 2011 that it had pulled out of the nuclear market altogether.
Nuclear Engineering International News, 22 June 2012

Safety upgrades to ensure safety French reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

French authorities have laid out the improvements they want to see from the country's nuclear operators to ensure safety in case of extreme natural disasters. EdF (Electricite de France), operator of the country's 58 nuclear reactors, has six years to complete about 10 billion euros (US$12 billion) of measures to upgrade safety. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, the French regulator, published the requirements for the industry in January and published the details on June 28.

The extensive measures to improve nuclear safety described by the Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, ASN) on June 28, affect the operations of  three organisations: EDF, which operates 58 large re-actors at 19 nuclear sites; Areva, which has fuel cycle facilities; and the CEA, which operates fuel and research facilities. 

The meltdown in Fukushima last year sparked a debate about the reliance on nuclear energy in France, which gets more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, the most in the world. In January, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire published a 524-page report on the sate of nuclear reactors in France. The report says that government-controlled power provider EDF needs to make significant upgrades "as soon as possible" to it's reactors in order to protect them from potential natural disasters. The ASN gave reactor operators until June 30 to deliver proposals meeting the enhanced safety standards of sites they run. ASN on June 28 published deadlines for measures including employing equipment such as diesel generators and bunkered control rooms, and guarding against flooding. EDF said it had "already initiated a plan of action" to comply with the requirements of the ASN.

An estimate by stateowned EDF that the measures will cost about 10 billion euros "is not improbable," Andre-Claude Lacoste, chairman of ASN told reporters. 
While safety must be "more robust," France's nuclear operators don't need to immediately shut sites, Lacoste said.

As well as thoroughly analysing external risks to nuclear facilities during planning and licensing, the operators of nuclear facilities "must be prepared to mitigate events beyond anything ever conside-red likely". 

Some 32 decisions were made on this basis by ASN, translating into 30 new regulatory requirements across the enti-rety of French nuclear infrastructure. In general, what the ASN wants in nuclear facilities is a 'hard core' of systems at each facility that are "incredibly robust and will provide essential safety services during even the most extreme circumstances."

Diesel generators for backup power have to be deployed between 2016 and the end of 2018 and bunkered control rooms and rapid response teams with specialized equipment by the end of 2014.

"No one can ever guarantee that a nuclear accident will never happen in France," Lacoste said. "We may need 10 years to completely understand what hap-pened at Fukushima." 

A 'rapid reaction force' of a different kind. French regulators have come to the conclusion that "despite the precautions taken, accidents can never be excluded." But if accidents can never be excluded, despite all precautions, then adding even more precautions does not eliminate the possibility of catastrophic releases of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment.
So prevention is only one half of the equation; the other half is coping with the consequences when things get truly out of hand. 

What is needed is a large and powerful team of experts and decision-makers outside the nuclear establishment whose sole responsibility is to provide maximum protection to living things beyond the perimeters of the afflicted nuclear facilities. This team would be dominated not by nuclear physicists and engineers but by specialists in the biomedical and environmental sciences, including agriculture, marine biology, and food sciences. These people would have the determining voice in all matters relating to the population and the environment -such as evacuation strategies; food monitoring; crop and livestock protection and monitoring; measures to minimize the spread of contamination through shoes, hair and clothing; strategies for protecting wildlife; offsite disposition of contaminated water from the stricken facilities....

EDF is also to put in place a 'rapid reaction force' of experts and engineers that can be deployed on short notice to any of its power plants around the country (see box above). They should be capable of 'intervening' during an emergency that involves several reactors at one site. The force should be in place by the end of this year and fully operational by late 2014. The company must also bring in enhanced training of its key staff to respond to major earthquakes and severe accidents.

Presenting nearly 1,000 recommendations aimed at securing French reactors, ASN chief Jean-Christophe Niel - Executive Director for Operations of ASN said: "A lot of people think that Fukushima is behind us, in fact it's ahead of us."

Sources: Bloomberg, 28 June 2012 / GlobalPost, 29 June 2012 / World Nuclear News, 29 June 2012.
Contact: Reseau Sortir du nucleaire, 9 rue Dumenge, 69317 LYON cedex 04, France.
Email: contact[at]
Tel: +33 4 7828 2922

Sortir du Nucleaire

Anomalies and suspected falsifications in the nuclear industry: a dozen countries affected

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Clément Sénéchal ‒ Greenpeace France

On May 3, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) announced that Areva had informed it of "irregularities in components produced at its Creusot Forge plant." The problems concern documents attesting to the quality of several parts manufactured at the site. The ASN specifies "inconsistencies", pointing to shortcomings in quality control (as a best-case scenario) but also mentions "omissions or modifications" related to the potential falsification of manufacturing reports.

At least 400 of the 10,000 quality documents reviewed by Areva contained anomalies. Problems concern the concentration levels of carbon and other elements contained in metallic parts, which determine the resistance of machined components. These levels were incorrectly reported or not reported at all. The possible explanation is that figures which did not comply with regulatory safety requirements were masked using this process. However, this equipment must be extremely robust and operate to the highest mechanical standard to ensure total safety.

Questions over quality control were first raised after irregularities were found in late 2014 in the EPR vessel in Flamanville following an ASN request. Finding Areva's audit of parts manufactured since 2010 too limited and superficial, the ASN requested a more detailed assessment going back to 2004, when the first EPR parts were made. Areva, which has owned the Creusot site since 2006, decided to review reports on all parts made since the plant began operating in 1965.

Trust in quality control: broken

Fraud at this level, if it is proven, deeply challenges this entire system and our trust in how safe it is. It is therefore all the more shocking to hear the French minister in charge of nuclear safety downplay the initial findings the same way EDF and Areva have.

For example, on May 4, France's environment minister Ségolène Royal affirmed on RTL radio: "I reviewed the matter this morning before coming here and can safely say that initial results are good: the parts are compatible – it is the documents which are defective".

EDF, in turn, stated that "safety was not compromised", but did not produce any new evidence. Its analysis seems to be based on additional data provided by Areva. In view of the concerns regarding the technical quality and the sincerity of Areva's documents, this move can by no means be regarded as sufficient.

These declarations seem premature, to say the least. When errors are mistakenly or intentionally included in manufacturing documents, the true quality of the components cannot be known with certainty without verification or new tests. Like those under way for the upper and lower heads of the EPR vessel, these tests will be long and complex. It is currently impossible to predict acceptable results. The ASN itself has said that "the proof provided so far is insufficient to arrive at that conclusion."

At least a dozen countries potentially affected

In over 200 reports on the most safety-sensitive equipment in nuclear reactors, around 60 parts are thought to be currently in service in 19 operating reactors at nuclear plants across France. All of EDF's reactors, as well as other large components in other nuclear facilities, may be affected by parts produced at Creusot Forge.

In Europe, potential problems were confirmed in at least three countries:

  • United Kingdom: ONR, Britain's regulator confirmed in a communiqué dated May 13 that the Sizewell B reactor is equipped with potentially affected parts from the Creusot site and stated it was waiting until May 31 for detailed information from Areva confirming whether the parts were in fact affected. The reactor vessel, and the replacement vessel closure lid, may be affected.
  • Sweden: Similarly, Vattenfal, which operates the country's Ringhals station, said on May 18 that two components used in the Ringhals 4 reactor may be affected. Steam generators in reactors 3 and 4 have been replaced with Creusot-made parts.
  • Switzerland: Vessels in the Beznau 1 and 2 reactors as well as replacement steam generators were supplied by Creusot. While there has been no official confirmation, Swiss media covered an ASN report suggesting that parts from Creusot may need more extensive testing.

Stations operating in other European countries which may also be affected include:

  • Belgium: Tihange and Doel use replacement steam generators, vessel closure lid and pressuriser supplied by Creusot.
  • Spain: Replacement steam generators used at Asco and Almaraz.
  • Slovenia: Replacement steam generators used at Krsko.

Elsewhere, potentially affected parts are used in operational reactors on three continents:

  • United States: Various reactors use potentially affected vessel components (Prairie Island 1 and 2), replacement lids (North Anna, Surry, Three Mile Island, Crystal River 3, Arkansas, Turkey Point, Salem, Saint Lucie, D.C. Cook), steam generators (Prairie Island 1, Callaway, Arkansas, Salem, Saint Lucie, Three Mile Island) and pressurisers (Saint Lucie, Milestone).
  • Brazil: Angra II uses replacement steam generators.
  • China: Equipment in the Guangdong 1 and 2, Ling Ao 1 and 2 and Ling Ao 3 and 4 reactors, as well as replacement reactor lids at the Qinshan station.
  • South Korea: Parts in the Ulchin 1 and 2 reactors.
  • South Africa: Parts in the Koeberg 1 and 2 reactors.

We need transparency now

To ensure complete transparency, Greenpeace France asks that this list of parts, along with detailed information about incriminated documents and the nature of the irregularities, omissions or modifications noted for each part, be made public. The little information available is not enough to measure the extent and gravity of the matter. The ASN have asked Areva to provide it with a list of the parts concerned. Greenpeace France believes more should be done.

In addition to the audit, systematic re-assessments of parts are needed When an error or forgery in a document renders compliance uncertain, only a technical review of the concerned parts can clear up any doubt. Greenpeace asks that once the list of concerned facilities is published, their operations be halted immediately so that an initial inspection can identify necessary tests and additional proof to be provided in order to clear up any doubt regarding the quality of all incriminated parts.

Reactors under construction: the uncertainty of EPR

The Flamanville EPR is the first among those affected by non-compliance problems. The first "serious anomalies" identified by the ASN in spring 2015 were found on the upper and lower heads of the vessel. Excess carbon in the central portion raises questions about their mechanical ability to withstand a sudden breakdown in certain conditions (notably, the need, in certain cases, to inject large amounts of cold water into the vessel, which can create a risk of thermal shock).

This means that the Taishan EPR under construction in China could also be affected by these discoveries, as is the Hinkley Point project in the UK (in the planning stages).

Above all, it demonstrates Areva's inability to control and monitor processes in the nuclear industry and, as a result, confirms an urgent need to plan for a reduction in the share of nuclear energy in the multi-year energy plan which should be published following the energy transition law adopted by France last year.

Reprinted from

Nuclear waste nightmares: USA, Germany, France

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On Valentine's Day 2014, a drum of packaged waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) ruptured 2,150 feet (655 metres) underground in New Mexico's nuclear waste repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) which is carved from ancient salt beds. The incident was described as a heat-generating chemical reaction – the US Department of Energy (DOE) called it a deflagration rather than an explosion.

Explosion or not, the chemical reaction compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to air monitoring equipment approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft. The accident resulted in 21 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.

It later transpired that LANL had improperly packaged hundreds of waste drums with a combustible mix of nitrate salts – a byproduct of nuclear weapons production – and organic cat litter, causing a hot reaction in one drum that cracked the lid. The rupture released americium and plutonium into the deep salt mine and, in small amounts, into the environment.1 The repository is still closed two years later, and a March 2016 date for re-opening has been pushed back to later this year.

"These accidents during the first 15 years of operation really illustrate the challenge of predicting the behavior of the repository over 10,000 years," said Rod Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The Stanford experts also suggest more attention should be paid to how the buried materials may interact with each other, particularly with salty brine, over centuries. A single storage drum may contain a variety of materials, such as lab coats, gloves and laboratory instruments; thus, the chemistry is complex. Ewing said that the complacency that led to the accidents at WIPP can also occur in the safety analysis. Therefore, he advises, it is important to carefully review the safety analysis as new proposals for more plutonium disposal are considered.2

Asse, Germany

Now, 500 metres beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, another nightmare is playing out, according to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist. Enough plutonium bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm's way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface. It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.3

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste, including the waste dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. But Germany still has no plan for dealing with high-level waste and spent fuel. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. "We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I'm not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done," he says. Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the Commission. The problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The problems at Asse became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. In 2011, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) ruled that the waste had to be removed. But this is likely to take decades.

Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don't know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity. And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in, and flooding of the mine can't be ruled out.

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033. Meanwhile the bill keeps rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions. Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

Tunnel collapse and fatality at French repository site

Meanwhile one worker has been killed and another injured in a tunnel collapse at France's planned nuclear waste repository at Bure, in north-eastern France. According to French waste management agency Andra, geophysical surveys were being carried out at the time of the collapse and the rockfall is believed to have happened as drilling was taking place. Scheduled for an authorization decree in 2018 and industrial commissioning in 2025, the facility – if approved – is expected to bury France's highly-radioactive nuclear waste.4

Repository cost escalation in France

Reuters reported on January 12 that shares in French utility EDF sank to an all-time low after Andra said that the cost of a national nuclear waste repository for intermediate- and high-level waste could be higher than EDF's estimates. Andra says that costs for the deep geological storage project could range from €20 billion to €30 billion.5

French energy minister Ségolène Royal signed a decree setting the 'reference cost' for the repository at €25 billion. In 2005, Andra estimated the cost of the facility at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion. In 2009 Andra re-estimated the cost at around €36 billion. In a confidential 2014 file, which was recently leaked, Andra gave a cost estimate of €34.4 billion, based on 2012 prices, with construction accounting for 58% of the costs and operational costs over 100 years accounting for 26% of the total.6

EDF said that the new €25 billion reference cost will "substitute the estimated benchmark cost of €20.8 billion on which EDF Group relied in its consolidated financial statements at the end of December 2014 and at the end of June 2015". EDF said the increase in provisions will have a negative impact of around €500 million post-tax on net income group share in 2015.6

Reprinted from nuClear news with additions from Nuclear Monitor.

nuClear news, No.82, February 2016,

1. Albuquerque Journal, 19 October 2015,
2. Stanford News, 15 Jan 2016,
011516.html and Nature 13 Jan 2016,
3. New Scientist, 29 Jan 2016,
4. Cumbria Trust, 27 Jan 2016,
WNN, 26 Jan 2016, 'Fatal rockfall at planned French repository site',

5. Geert De Clercq, 12 Jan 2016, 'EDF sinks to all-time low as nuclear waste cost estimate soars',

6. World Nuclear News, 18 Jan 2016, 'Minister sets benchmark cost for French repository',

French nuclear giant Areva melts down

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén – WISE Sweden

Chronically and heavily indebted, Areva, the once world-leading nuclear conglomerate, is no more. Areva was formed in 2001 with the fusion of two companies: Cogéma (uranium mining, reactor fuels and waste management) and Framatome (reactor engineering).

The crisis has been long in the making, but became obvious in February 2015, when Areva published its financial report for 2014 with net losses of €4.8 billion that year alone on a total turnover of roughly €8.3 billion. Press reports attributed a good share of the loss in 2014 to Areva's involvement in Finland's fifth nuclear reactor, an EPR, at Olkiluoto. At that point Areva bore an accumulated credit debt of €5.8 billion.

2014 was the worst, but this year the company has reported losses for five years running. Had Areva been a private company, bankruptcy would have been a prospect years earlier, but – like Electricité de France (EDF) – Areva is over 80% government-owned.

The (dis)solution

In early 2015, the prime minister and pertinent cabinet members decided to transfer Areva's reactor technology division, Areva NP, to EDF. CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy declared a willingness to absorb the division, but only on the condition that EDF be granted "immunity" against any further costs relating to the Olkiluoto venture.

The ministers emphasize the strategic advantages of restructuring the country's nuclear sector. There have been too many actors, competing against, or at best merely stumbling over, each other rather than pulling together. As Minister of the Economy Macron told Figaro in March 2015:

"Areva is paying ... the price of years of a lack of transparency and poor relations with EDF. ... It is our hope and, very clearly, there is a need for a thoroughgoing reorganization, a re-founding, of the historic partnership between these two groups – to the benefit of both."

On 27 January 2016, the French government announced the details of its plan for the reconstruction of what remains of the former industrial flagship. Areva is envisioned to "reassume the perimeters" of pre-fusion Cogéma and confine its focus to the fuel cycle proper. EDF will absorb the company's nuclear power division, and pay Areva €2.5 billion. Not all of this price will be borne by EDF in the longer term. Approximately 40% of Areva's current activity (contracts, etc.) will be distributed among Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Chinese and British interests, according to Le Monde. These transactions are expected to bring in about half the initial outlay.

Minority posts in what remains of Areva will be acquired by China National Nuclear Corporation, which already holds a small share in the company and KIA (Kuwait), currently a partner.

The unions – CGT, FO and CFE-CGC – have all been skeptical of EDF's commitment to "save" Areva. The company is already strained with debts in excess of €30 billion, they point out. They also point to the looming renewal of an aging distribution network and numerous power generating units. Reported problems at EDF's EPR at Flamanville are yet another serious concern. (For the same reasons, the unions have opposed EDF's €16 billion involvement in Hinkley Point in the UK and, of course, taking on any responsibility for the EPR at Olkiluoto.)

Instructed to take immediate measures to shrink its budget by €1 billion by 2017, Areva has announced cuts of senior staff (15% in France, 18% abroad) for the period 2015–2017. This is the second round of austerity measures the company has had to undertake since 2011. Still, the forced measures come nowhere near covering the financial needs of the coming three years: an estimated €7 billion, according to Areva's management.

Asked in 2015 how much in the way of public funds would be required to make the new Areva viable, both President Hollande and Minister of Finance Macron declined to comment, saying only that the question was "premature", and that investment of public money was "not, by any means, a priority". Reports this past month (January 2016) speak of public monies making up "a very large part" of the approximately €5 billion needed to keep Areva afloat. In his announcement President Hollande specified that the government would be mindful of EU restrictions on government aid to enterprise.

Highlights from the road to perdition

Vertical integration of enterprises was in vogue back in 2001, and then CEO Anne Lauvergeon wanted her company to be able to deliver the entire range of nuclear products and services. To that end – and in line with widespread concerns about dwindling uranium supplies at the time – Areva paid a considerable sum of money to acquire a uranium mine. Areva also ventured boldly into renewables (wind, solar and biomass) and even shale gas. Hence the company's enormous debt.

In retrospect Areva's 'shopping spree' in the energy sector is now widely seen as first steps toward rack and ruin. (If, as some analysts now would have it, Lauvergeon suffered from delusions of grandeur, she was hardly alone in that. In roughly the same time frame, Sweden's Lars G Josefsson, CEO of state-owned Vattenfall, went so far as to pawn the whole company in his striving to become a world-ranking player.)

Perhaps the rashest venture that Areva entered into was to contract in 2003 to single-handedly supply Finland's fifth nuclear reactor, an EPR, with a design capacity of 1600 MW. The project was the first EPR ever to be built; moreover Areva had no previous experience of managing such a large project. The deal was controversial from the start. Many considered the €3.2 billion budget a gross underestimate and the four-year time-frame optimistic. The contract stipulated no ceiling on the penalties Areva might suffer for any delays, which in the case of unproven technology might prove to be a "time bomb" as the former general manager of Cogéma put it at the time. All these 'negatives' are now put down to the CEO's burning ambition to beat out both EDF and 'les américains'.

The time bomb detonated in 2008, when Areva (then partnered with Siemens) and their Finnish client, TVO, filed multibillion euro claims/counterclaims for damages for arbitration under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce. The conflict remains unresolved. But with the dissolution of Areva and the transfer of participation in the project to EDF, efforts have stepped up to reach some agreement.

Olkiluoto 3 is currently nine years behind schedule, and costs are triple the original budget. At the start of 2016 Areva had poured €4.6 billion into Olkiluoto 3, Le Monde reports.

Looking back, looking forward

The most dispassionate assessment of the Areva debacle I have seen comes from Areva's current CEO Philippe Knoche: "The amplitude of the net losses for 2014 illustrate the dual challenge that Areva faces: prolonged stagnation in the nuclear sector, lack of competitive strength and the difficulty of risk management in projects of great size."

Otherwise, there has been a pronounced tendency in the French press to personalize, even psychologize, the debacle. That, and to blame Fukushima.

The 'wisdom of hindsight', by definition anachronistic, often masks whatever rationality may have supported past decisions, especially when grand plans have gone awry. No-one in 2003 was aware of the finance crisis – and ensuing 'Great Recession' – a mere five years down the road. Nor could the tsunami that caused multiple meltdowns, fires and explosions at Fukushima in 2011 be foreseen. Areva's management can hardly be faulted for the collapsing demand for nuclear services that ensued. Areva had lost out to American competitors and Russia's Rosatom now and then, but serious competition on the part of China or South Korea was not yet in the picture. In short, the prospects for healthy financial returns dimmed appreciably after the daring first steps had been taken.

Looking forward, the horizon is not entirely cloud-free. New legislation in France aiming to cut the country's reliance on nuclear power for electricity from 75% to 50% by 2025, took effect last summer (see Nuclear Monitor #817). Moreover EDF has found it difficult to find the €16 billion in investments for its share of the EPR project at Hinkley Point in the UK. The board of governors is deeply divided on whether to proceed. Some analysts predict that the Finnish EPR may be a 'white elephant' if and when it ever comes online. In short, the problems facing the nuclear sector today may turn out to be more general and perhaps more persistent than many observers close to the nuclear scene in France have been willing to contemplate.


Jean-Michel Bezat: "Areva, un échec français" Le Monde, 28 Jan 2016.

Jean-Michel Bezat: "5 milliards pour sauver Areva". Le Monde, 26 Jan 2016.

Jean-Michel Bezat: "EDF-Areva: jour J pour la réorganisaton du nucléaire français". Le Monde, 26 Jan 2016.

Jean-Michel Bezat: "Emmanuel Macron veut en finir avec le bourbier de l'EPR finlandais". Le Monde, 21 Jan 2016.

"France's nuclear industry: Arevaderci". The Economist, 23 May 2015.

Jean-Christophe Féraud: "Plan social : les salariés d'Areva encaissent le choc". Libération, 7 May 2015.

"Areva confirme de lourdes pertes et annonce un pan d'èconomies". BFM Business, 4 Mar 2015.

"EDF à la rescousse d'Areva?" BFM Business, 4 Mar 2015.

Bertille Bayart: "Emmanuel Macron: 'Il faut une convergence entre Areva et EDF'" Le Figaro, 4 Mar 2015.

Bertille Bayart: "Perte record en vue chez Areva". Le Figaro, 20 Feb 2015.

Don't Nuke the Climate: Help EDF win the Pinocchio greenwashing award

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Organised by Friends of the Earth France, in partnership with the CRID and Peuples Solidaires-Action Aid France, the Pinocchio Awards highlight the negative impacts of multinational companies – either through lobbying tactics at a policy level, or directly at a community level – and especially those that indulge in greenwashing.

This year, as Paris hosts the international climate talks (COP21), the Pinocchio Climate Awards joins forces with the Worst Lobby Awards, from Friends of the Earth Europe and Corporate Europe Observatory to bring a special edition: the Pinocchio Climate Awards.

This year's awards will target multinationals whose activities have a direct impact on the climate and communities around the world, and whose influence, through lobbying, promoting false solutions or greenwashing weakens or destroys climate policies, or undermines action on climate change.

The three worst companies, across three categories, are chosen through an online public vote, and presented with the award at a public awards ceremony.

The French energy company EDF is one of the nominees … so get voting! Online voting started on November 3 and will be open until December 2. The awards will be presented at a public awards ceremony on December 3.

EDF is using its controversial sponsorship of the COP21 climate talks to launch a large-scale greenwashing campaign to brand nuclear power as a 'carbon-free' and 'clean' energy source. EDF presents itself as 'the official partner of a low-carbon world'. The company is planning a series of conferences and symposia to promote the 'role of electricity in decarbonising the world'. It is also funding a 'call for projects' for non-profit organisations with green projects with a positive impact for the climate.1

However EDF is not planning to shed any of its considerable global investments in coal and other fossil fuels, nor is it preparing any significant strategic shift towards energy efficiency or renewables. Its main concern is propping up its increasingly compromised nuclear business. EDF, 84% owned by the French state, is strong on nuclear and fossil energy, but weak on renewables.

On its website EDF claims that 87% of the electricity it produces in the world is 'CO2-free'.2 In France, according to EDF, the figure is 98%. But that is not because the company is a pioneer of green energy. Renewable energy sources are still very marginal in its global electricity mix, at about 2%. In France, it is only 0.2% (excluding large dams). The main basis for EDF's claim is its huge stake in nuclear power, of which it is the top global producer, with plants in France, the UK, the US, Belgium and China.

EDF runs a fleet of 16 coal power plants globally, including some of the dirtiest in Europe. In 2013, it was rated among the top 20 global multinational emitters of greenhouse gases.3

After a complaint made by the French antinuclear network Sortir du nucléaire and some local groups, an official advertising ethics body in France recently issued a damning opinion on a public advertising campaign launched by EDF in Alsace, the French region where the company is fighting against the planned closure of its 37 years old Fessenheim nuclear plant, the oldest in France. The adverts said that the electricity provided by EDF in Alsace was '100% without CO2 emissions' – which the ethics body found was deliberately misleading consumers about the true nature of nuclear energy and its environmental impacts.4

Sortir du nucléaire and its partners have now lodged a second complaint, taking aim at EDF's claim that it is providing 98% carbon-free electricity in France. The hearing will take place on 11 December 2015, and then the ethics body will have two weeks to rule on the complaint.5

So what does EDF really want? In France, its current agenda is to extend the lifetime of its existing plants – most of them approaching 40 years old and plagued with recurring safety issues. This could cost up to one hundred billion euros. That money should be invested in building the long-term sustainable energy system that France needs. That's no pipedream: a 2015 report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, shows that 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050 in France is feasible and affordable.6

Between its huge stakes in fossil fuels and its investment in false solutions such as nuclear, EDF can hardly claim to be an official partner of a "low-carbon world". If it had its way, France and the world would remain stuck in a future of climate chaos, nuclear risk and escalating energy costs.

Source and contact:




3. Thomson Reuters:



6. Terje Osmundsen, 20 April 2015,

L'Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie (ADEME), 2015, 'Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvelable en 2050',

EPR fiasco unravelling in France and the UK

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

French utility EDF has once again pushed back the estimated start-up date and upped the cost estimate of the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) under construction at Flamanville, France. There was no attempt to sugar-coat the fiasco by the World Nuclear Association, which noted that the estimated cost has more than tripled − from €3.3 billion (US$3.7b) to €10.5 billion (US$11.8b) − and the estimated six-year construction timeline has nearly doubled to 11 years.1

Concerns were revealed earlier this year about the structural integrity of pressure vessels in EPRs under construction in France and China. WISE-Paris has released a briefing on the problems.2 Drawing on information from the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and its technical support organisation, the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), WISE-Paris states:

"Available analysis released by the French nuclear safety authorities confirms the serious and exceptional nature of the defect found on the head and bottom of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) of the EPR reactor at Flamanville, in France, and most probably those of Taishan 1 and 2 in China. All three units are under construction.

This defect consists in a "major positive segregation", which describes an area where the carbon concentration is found to be higher than the limit expected and requested under technical specifications in the steel that was used for fabrication. The excess in carbon reaches up to 50% higher levels than expected in the affected area, which covers more than one meter in diameter and spreads through more than half of the head thickness. This appears to be much higher in scope than any other known segregation on similar components within the French operating nuclear fleet.

The mechanical properties will be affected in the segregated area, which could therefore jeopardize the possibility to exclude with certainty the risk of RPV rupture in some operational conditions. This certainty is one of the fundamentals of the reactor's safety assessment.

The presence of the segregated zone results from the choice that Areva made regarding the forging process of the concerned components by its daughter company Creusot Forges. The analysis shows that another process, which has been used by Japan Steel Works (JSW) to forge similar components for the EPR reactor under construction in Finland, would most likely have allowed to avoid such segregations. In the case of the bottom, which is a little less thick than the head, it also appears that yet another process (directed solidification ingot), which is used by Creusot Forges for other pieces, could have been used to avoid the problem.

According to the analysis of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and its technical support organisation, the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), Areva therefore chose, contrary to regulatory guidelines, a fabrication process which had not received technical qualification beforehand and which did not use the best available technology. ASN says that it warned Areva on various occasions against the industrial risk that it took when proceeding with fabrication despite those concerns. Moreover, according to the same analysis, Areva's technical assessment of the risk and characterization of a segregated zone forming in the pieces was wrong.

While there is no indication of any dissimulation at this stage, the reasons why the parts could be forged in 2006-2007, welded with other components of the RPV, and why this RPV could be received by the operator EDF, installed in the reactor building and welded with other components of the primary circuit in 2014, without any stop-point of any sort, remain to be understood. ...The programme of studies and tests that Areva proposed is expected to deliver its results in the first half of 2016, allowing for the Advisory Group to discuss them by mid-2016 at the earliest. ASN could therefore not make its final decision about the acceptability of the RPV before the second half of 2016, even if the study and testing results were conclusive."

If remedial action is required, it could be extremely expensive and time-consuming. The pressure vessel problems could kill the Flamanville project and destroy Areva's already bleak chances of securing further overseas orders for EPRs.


Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of ASN, said the two EPRs planned for Hinkley Point in the UK could be affected as pressure vessels for those reactors have already been manufactured using the same techniques.3

Delays with the Flamanville EPR − arising from the pressure vessel fiasco, or any of the other fiascos that have plagued the project, or any fiascos that have yet to emerge − could directly impact the planned EPRs at Hinkley Point. The European Commission's conditional support4 for the extraordinary subsidies on offer from the UK government to get the project moving are subject to a legal challenge launched by Austria and others. Moreover, the EC ruling was conditional, and one of the conditions is that if the Flamanville reactor is not operational by the end of 2020, the UK government's financial guarantees become invalid. The complexities of the arrangement were recently explained by Oliver Tickell in The Ecologist.5 The EC noted that its conditions were intended to ensure that shareholders and not the guarantor (British taxpayers) "retain the principal exposure to the viability of the EPR technology until such time as there is objective evidence for confidence through the success of precedent projects such as Flamanville 3 and Taishan 1."

The UK government is still trying to rescue the Hinkley Point project despite a growing chorus of criticism. British utilities pulled out of the project long ago. The capacity of French utilities EDF and Areva to fund the project is constrained by Areva's massive debts (and a restructure which will likely see EDF take on some of Areva's risks and liabilities).

The two Chinese utilities with a stake in the project − China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) − seem to be reluctant to increase their stake in the project. The Chinese are playing hard-ball: their asks include options for Chinese involvement in planned reactors at other sites in the UK (Bradwell and Sizewell are the two sites mentioned in media reports), and some sort of agreement for the UK to consider licensing Chinese reactor technology in the UK (e.g. the Hualong One design6).

The Guardian newspaper opined: "In short, the Chinese have [UK Chancellor George] Osborne over a barrel. One wonders what other incentives have been offered to avoid a humiliating U-turn on Hinkley. The final deal, assuming it is agreed, should be published in full: and parliament should comb every line."7

EDF hopes to sign an agreement with the Chinese utilities while Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the UK from October 20−23. But if any agreement is signed, much of the detail will be missing and it would not amount to a formal, binding agreement to proceed.8

A chorus of criticism

The Hinkley EPR project is now under sustained attack − and not just from the traditional anti-nuclear voices.9,10 The project is opposed by British Establishment figures such as Lord Turnbull (former head of the UK civil service), Lord Lawson (former Chancellor), Lord Howell (former Energy Secretary), and London Mayor Boris Johnson. It is also opposed by most of the mainstream and conservative UK newspapers.

Increasingly, nuclear power advocates are voicing outright opposition. Lady Barbara Judge, former chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said the project is too expensive and uses unreliable technology.11 Vocal nuclear advocates George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall say that the Hinkley project is an overpriced white elephant and should be abandoned in favour of "other low carbon technologies, both renewable and nuclear."12

Bipartisan support for Hinkley may soon be a thing of the past. The Opposition Labour Party's new Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Lisa Nandy, wrote to the Public Accounts Committee in late September calling for an investigation into the Hinkley project. Nandy said: "I have serious concerns about the value for money this deal provides for bill payers, the likely impact of such a deal on the most vulnerable in society, and have serious questions about the bid process itself."13

Two credit ratings agencies have warned EDF and its Chinese partners that they face rating downgrades if they press ahead with Hinkley Point. Moody's said the project would have a "credit negative effect" because of the risk of large cost overruns and delays. Standard & Poor's warned of the impact on EDF's balance sheet of the Hinkley project.14


1. World Nuclear News, 3 Sept 2015, 'Flamanville EPR timetable and costs revised',

2. WISE Paris Briefing, 1 Oct 2015, 'EPR Flamanville 3: Justification Case of the Pressure Vessel',

See also the EnerWebWatch website which has numerous documents regarding flaws with EPR pressure vessels:

3. John Lichfield, 18 April 2015, 'UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project',


5. Oliver Tickell, 2 Oct 2015, 'Flamanville nuclear safety fail sounds death knell for Hinkley C',


7. 27 Sept 2015, 'Hinkley Point: what price avoiding humiliation?',

8. Reuters, 2 Oct 2015, 'China president's UK visit is chance for EDF to clinch Hinkley Point deal',

9. nuClear news No.78, October 2015, 'The Hinkley Saga is a National Embarrassment',

10. Ian Fairlie, 21 Sept 2015, '30 Media Comments Opposing Hinkley C',

11. Infrastructure Intelligence, 25 Sept 2015,

12. George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, and Chris Goodall, 19 Sept 2015, 'We are pro-nuclear, but Hinkley C must be scrapped',

13. Lisa Nandy, 28 Sept 2015, 'We need an investigation into Osborne's plans for nuclear power stations',

14. Robin Pagnamenta, 3 Oct 2015, 'EDF faces threat of credit downgrade over Hinkley Point'

Hinkley Point-B2

French government agency sceptical about Gen IV reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) has produced an important critique of Generation IV nuclear power concepts.1 IRSN is a government authority with 1,790 staff under the joint authority of the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health.

There are numerous critical analyses of Generation IV concepts by independent experts2, but the IRSN critique is the first from the government of a country with an extensive nuclear industry.

The IRSN report focuses on the six Generation IV concepts prioritised by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which brings together 12 countries with an interest in new reactor types, plus Euratom. France is itself one of the countries involved in the GIF.

The six concepts prioritised by the GIF are:

  • Sodium cooled Fast Reactors (SFR);
  • Very High Temperature Reactors, with thermal neutron spectrum (VHTR);
  • Gas-cooled Fast Reactors (GFR);
  • Lead-cooled Fast Reactors (LFR) or Lead-Bismuth (LB) cooled Fast Reactors;
  • Molten Salt Reactors (MSR), with fast or thermal neutron spectrum; and
  • SuperCritical Water Reactors (SCWR), with fast or thermal neutron spectrum.

The report states: "There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen."

IRSN considers the SFR system to be the only one to have reached a degree of maturity compatible with the construction of a reactor prototype during the first half of this century − and even the development of an SFR prototype would require further preliminary studies and technological developments.

Only SFR and VHTR systems can boast operating experience. IRSN states: "No operating experience feedback from the other four systems studied can be put to direct use. The technological difficulties involved rule out any industrial deployment of these systems within the time frame considered [mid century]."

The report says that for LFR and GFR systems, small prototypes might be built by mid-century. For MSR and SCWR systems, there "is no likelihood of even an experimental or prototype MSR or SCWR being built during the first half of this century" and "it seems hard to imagine any reactor being built before the end of the century".

IRSN notes that it is difficult to thoroughly evaluate safety and radiation protection standards of Generation IV systems as some concepts have already been partially tried and tested, while others are still in the early stages of development.

IRSN is sceptical about safety claims: "At the present stage of development, IRSN does not notice evidence that leads to conclude that the systems under review are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors, except perhaps for the VHTR ..." Moreover the VHTR system could bring about significant safety improvements "but only by significantly limiting unit power".

The report notes that the safety of fast reactors can be problematic because of high operating temperatures and the toxicity and corrosive nature of most coolants considered. It says that issues arising from the Fukushima disaster require detailed examination, such as: choice of coolant; operating temperatures and power densities (which are generally higher for Generation IV concepts); and in some cases, fuel reprocessing facilities that present the risk of toxic releases.

The report is unenthusiastic about research into transmutation of minor actinides (long-lived waste products in spent fuel), saying that "this option offers only a very slight advantage in terms of inventory reduction and geological waste repository volume when set against the induced safety and radiation protection constraints for fuel cycle facilities, reactors and transport." It notes that ASN, the French nuclear safety authority, has recently announced that minor actinide transmutation would not be a deciding factor in the choice of a future reactor system.

The reports findings on the six GIF concepts are briefly summarised here:

Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors (SFR)

The main safety advantage is the use of low-pressure liquid coolant. The normal operating temperature of this coolant is significantly lower than its boiling point, allowing a grace period of several hours during loss-of-cooling events. The advantage gained from the high boiling point of sodium, however, must be weighed against the fact that the structural integrity of the reactor cannot be guaranteed near this temperature.

The use of sodium also comes with a number of drawbacks due to its high reactivity not only with water and air, but also with MOX fuel.

It seems possible for SFR technology to reach a safety level at least equivalent to that of Generation III pressurised water reactors, but IRSN is unable to determine whether it could significantly exceed this level, in view of design differences and the current state of knowledge and research.

Very High Temperature Reactors (VHTR)

The VHTR benefits from the operating experience feedback obtained from High Temperature Reactors (HTR).

This technology is intrinsically safe with respect to loss of cooling, which means that it could be used to design a reactor that does not require an active decay heat removal system. The VHTR system could therefore bring about significant safety improvements compared with Generation III reactors, especially regarding core melt prevention.

VHTR safety performance can only be guaranteed by significantly limiting unit power.

The feasibility of the system has yet to be determined and will chiefly depend on the development of fuels and materials capable of withstanding high temperatures; the currently considered operating temperature of around 1000°C is close to the transformation temperature of materials commonly used in the nuclear industry.

Lead-cooled Fast Reactors (LFR)

Unlike sodium, lead does not react violently with water or air.

The thermal inertia associated with the large volume of lead used and its very high density results in long grace periods in the event of loss of cooling.

In addition, the high boiling point at atmospheric pressure is a guarantee of high margins under normal operating conditions and rules out the risk of coolant boiling.

The main drawback of lead-cooled (or lead-bismuth cooled) reactors is that the coolant tends to corrode and erode stainless steel structures.

LFR safety is reliant on operating procedures, which does not seem desirable in a Generation IV reactor.

The highly toxic nature of lead and its related products, especially polonium-210, produced when lead-bismuth is used, raises the problem of potential environmental impact.
IRSN is unable to determine whether the LFR system could guarantee a significantly higher safety level than Generation III reactors.

Various technical hurdles need to be overcome before a reactor of this type could be considered.

Gas-cooled Fast Reactors (GFR)

Given the current state of GFR development, construction of an industrial prototype reactor would not be technically feasible. GFR specifications are highly ambitious and raise a number of technological problems that are still a long way from being solved.

From the safety point of view, the GFR does not display any intrinsic quality likely to lead to a significant improvement over Generation III reactors.

Molten Salt Reactors (MSR)

The MSR differs considerably from the other systems proposed by the GIF. The main differences are that the coolant and fuel are mixed in some models and that liquid fuel is used.

The MSR has several advantages, including its burning, breeding and actinide-recycling capabilities.

Its intrinsic neutron properties could be put to good use as, in theory, they should allow highly stable reactor operation. The very low thermal inertia of salt and very high operating temperatures of the system, however, call for the use of fuel salt drainage devices. System safety depends mainly on the reliability and performance of these devices.

Salt has some drawbacks − it is corrosive and has a relatively high crystallisation temperature.

The reactor must also be coupled to a salt processing unit and the system safety analysis must take into account the coupling of the two facilities.

Consideration must be given to the high toxicity of some salts and substances generated by the processes used in the salt processing unit.

The feasibility of fuel salt processing remains to be demonstrated.

SuperCritical-Water-cooled Reactors (SCWR)

The SCWR is the only system selected by GIF that uses water as a coolant. The SCWR is seen as a further development of existing water reactors and thus benefits from operating experience feedback, especially from boiling water reactors. Its chief advantage is economic.

While the use of supercritical water avoids problems relating to the phase change from liquid to vapour, it does not present any intrinsic advantage in terms of safety.

Thermal inertia is very low, for example, when the reactor is shut down.

The use of supercritical water in a nuclear reactor raises many questions, in particular its behaviour under neutron flux.

At the current stage of development, it is impossible to ascertain whether the system will eventually become significantly safer than Generation III reactors.


1. IRSN, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems',

Direct download:

2. See for example:

International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, 'Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status',

Helmut Hirsch, Oda Becker, Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt, April 2005, 'Nuclear Reactor Hazards: Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century',