Jean-Luc Mélenchon revives the controversy over the supposed “intermittency” of nuclear power

Jean-Luc Mélenchon revives the controversy over the supposed “intermittency” of nuclear power

Guest of France Inter on Tuesday (June 7), Jean-Luc Mélenchon reiterated his opposition to nuclear energy, affirming that it was “the most intermittent source of energy”. A position he will maintain if he is appointed Prime Minister in the coming weeks, he assures.

According to the leader of NUPES, nuclear energy would even be “today, the most intermittent source of energy” in France.

In question, the uranium supplies interrupted because of the war in Ukraine as well as the shutdown of half of the French reactors because of the high temperatures, interruptions which should continue this summer.

However, according to Greg de Temmerman, managing director of the think tank Zenon Research and scientific coordinator on the ITER project from 2014 to 2020 contacted by EURACTIV, the momentary situation of nuclear energy production in France, which should continue this summer, n is not exceptional.

“It is common for reactors to produce less in summer to adapt to water conditions”, that is to say to the drop in the flow of the rivers, he declares. Since it is necessary to use water to cool the reactors, this reduction in energy production ” allow […] avoid contributing to the drying up and overheating of watercourses. »

No intermittency

Although Greg de Temmerman acknowledges that at the moment the nuclear fleet is under tension”the researcher specifies that “there is no security problem”, or security of supply. And this, insofar as “these stops/slowdowns are planned and organised”.

Thereby, we are therefore not in the intermittency” he advances, Conversely solar and wind renewable energies. RTE figures for the whole of May 2022 indeed reveal that the production of wind energy varies from simple to fourfold depending on weather conditions. It thus went from a low of 2177 megawatts (MW) to a high of 8335 MW, varying from 1 to 16% of total French electricity production.

For solar, its productive capacity is by nature intermittent since it can only be concentrated during the day.

The definition of intermittency thus resides in the inability for energy to be controlled and to produce according to needs. “Which is not the case for the installed nuclear fleet”, says Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, researcher in French and European energy policies contacted by EURACTIV.

Nuclear energy is indeed controllable. During the month of May, its capacities provided 51% to 72% of French electricity production. And this, while 27 nuclear reactors out of the 56 in the French fleet are shut down, including 12 to check for possible stress corrosion problems (SCC).

On this subject, EDF confirms for the time being the presence of CSC on the pipes of the auxiliary circuits of the Civaux 1, Chooz 1 and Penly 1 reactors, as well as the absence of corrosion on the Chinon B3 reactor.

Events that raise questions about the level of safety of the French nuclear fleet. If the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) considers in a press release that the safety of nuclear installations has been maintained at a level satisfying ” in 2021, it nevertheless calls for placing these questions at the heart of energy policy decisions. At least on the same level as the issues related to the decarbonization of energy production that occupy the media.

Historically low French production

On the other hand, if it maintains its production sufficiently, the nuclear fleet has still experienced a historically low productive average since the beginning of the year.

“The difference compared to a normal month of May is of the order of 10 to 15 gigawatts (GW), it is considerable” observes Thomas Veyrenc, executive director of RTE in the columns of the newspaper Le Monde.

From around 48 GW in January for an installed capacity of 61.4 GW, the capacity of the fleet fell below the 30 GW mark in May.

EDF has therefore just revised downwards its estimate of nuclear production for the whole of 2022, dropping from 295-315 terawatt hours (TWh) initially, to 280-300 TWh.

2 years of fuel reserves

As for uranium stocks, Greg de Temmerman wants to be reassuring: for the supply of uranium, EDF has 2 years of fuel stocks, which makes it possible to see the future “. This is indeed what the French Society of Nuclear Energy (SFEN) specifies.

Moreover, according to a report by uranium producer Orano, France would also have of a reserve portfolio over 20 years. Nevertheless, the report was published before the start of the war in Ukraine. Gold Orano operates in 7 countries, including 3 located in Central Asia, suffering from the constraints on the transit routes referred to by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

These are largely resources from Kazakhstan, the world’s largest supplier of uranium, with 41% of production in 2018 according to a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency (IAEA). ) and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD.

Note that therussia is also a producer, accounting for 5% of the world total. But Orano is not currently involved in Russian operations, which protects the French park from a geopolitical risk linked to Russia.

In addition, the company is also deploying its activities in 4 other countries where the impact of the war in Ukraine is less on supply. Namely Namibia, Gabon, Niger and Canada. Knowing that, according to information gleaned by Le Monde from the Euratom Technical Committee, France supplied 34.7% of its needs in Niger in 2020, and 9.9% in Australia. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, for their part, provided up to 55% of French supplies.

France therefore has stocks, but also a portfolio of reserves, part of which is not concentrated on the transit routes constrained by the war in Ukraine.

He there is enough stock for several years and France has enough different suppliers not to be caught off guard” reaffirms Phuc-Vinh Nguyen.

Relaunch of nuclear power in France

In addition, to maintain the level of installed power of the French nuclear fleet, it would be necessary to build or maintain by 2035 as many reactors as the multi-annual energy program plans to close, i.e. 14.

However, Jean-Luc Mélenchon rightly states that it is not reasonable to build 14 more reactors”.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron, as a candidate and then as president, also leaned towards a reduction in the share of nuclear power in the French energy mix. An announcement that was in line with the 2015 law on energy transition for green growth passed during the previous five-year term. He was then Minister of the Economy, after having been an adviser to President François Hollande.

But Since then, the President has changed his tune. On October 12, 2021, he presented his plan France 2030 mentioning the development of new nuclear reactors, in particular small and modular ones, known as “SMR”.

On November 9, 2021, the President reiterated and raised his ambitions, declaring on television: “we are going, for the first time in decades, to relaunch the construction of nuclear reactors in our country”. Without however specifying how much and how.

In its report on the EPR sector (pressurized water reactors), the Court of Auditors nevertheless considers it necessary to confirm the technical and financial gains of this reactor technology before launching a new development plan.

Nuclear in the green taxonomy

With the fears over the gas and oil supply caused by the war in Ukraine, the electrification of uses is therefore the subject of particular attention on the part of public decision-makers.

Therefore, nuclear appears as a solution. In any case, this is the position of France and its allies who wish to integrate nuclear power into the European green taxonomy, which defines the investments that can be considered “green”.

The European Parliament must decide in July on a proposal from the European Commission to include nuclear and gas in the taxonomy, under certain conditions.

However, on Wednesday 8 June, various members of the parliamentary committees working on the text (the Environment Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee) declared that they would reject the proposal to include nuclear power and gas in the taxonomy when of a vote scheduled for 14 June in committee.

Uncertainty therefore hovers over the future of the sector in Europe before the vote on the text in the European Parliament in early July in plenary session.

France, the leading producer and consumer of nuclear electricity on the Old Continent, is at the forefront of this issue.

Faced with these uncertainties, Phuc-Vinh Nguyen proposes that a rethink “our relationship to energy, of which nuclear power is only one component”. In this sense, it encourages decision makers to promote “a societal debate including citizens” on the future of energy.

[Edité par Frédéric Simon]

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