the Senate passes a stronger bill

The challenge of the text is to revive and modernize the French nuclear fleet. The Senate adopted Tuesday, January 24 in first reading the government bill promoting the construction of new nuclear reactors, by 239 votes, against 16. This with controversial additions to the text, like the removal of the cap at 50 % share of nuclear in the energy mix by 2035.

This version of the bill simplifies administrative procedures in order to promote the construction of new reactors. It is “the first stone of a huge project for the revival of nuclear power in France”estimated Senator Bernard Buis (Rally of Democrats, Progressives and Independents, RDPI).

In addition to the Republicans and the centrists, who dominate the upper house, the RDPI groups, made up of a majority of Renaissance and independent elected representatives, as well as the major part of the predominantly radical RDSE group, voted for the text. The environmental senators voted against them, while the socialist and communist groups abstained.

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Towards the construction of six new EPRs

France, which derives around 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, decided in 2015 to close fourteen of its fifty-eight reactors, before a reversal announced by the President of the Republic in favor of a new nuclear one.

While campaigning for re-electionPresident Emmanuel Macron has indeed announced his intention to build six new nuclear reactors, of the EPR 2 type, with an option to build eight others.

The bill presented by the government and passed by the Senate on Tuesday at first reading provides in particular for limiting the installation of new reactors to existing nuclear sites, or nearby. This for a period limited to fifteen years in the initial text but increased to twenty-seven years in the text adopted by the Senate.

Concretely, the sites will be exempted from town planning authorisation, the control of conformity being ensured by the State. The right of expropriation will be relaxed. Or even work on buildings not intended to receive radioactive substances could be started before closing the public inquiry.

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According to Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Minister for Energy Transition, who is responsible for this text, these provisions will “not to add a delay of two to three years to the construction of a reactor”. The next two EPRs should be located in Penly (Seine-Maritime), followed by two others in Gravelines (North), according to EDF’s plans. Mme Pannier-Runacher has advanced the end-2027 target for “the first pour of concrete” and “2035-2037” for commissioning.

Removal of several “locks”

On Tuesday, the senators chose to broaden the scope of this technical text, by blowing up “locks” of the current energy programming law, according to them.

In particular, they removed the objective of reducing the nuclear share of electricity production to 50% by 2035 and imposed the revision of the decree which provides for the closure of twelve existing reactors, in addition to the two in Fessenheim.

The senators also adopted amendments aimed at integrating climate change risks in the demonstration of reactor safety and cyber resilience. They also wanted to better involve local communities and increased the penalties for intrusions into power plants.

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Greenpeace France and the Sortir du Nucléaire network announced, in a joint press release, “leaving the public debate” underway on future reactors, denouncing “a democratic masquerade”. The organizers of this public debate were also alarmed by the turn of the discussions in the Senate. Chantal Jouanno, President of the National Commission for Public Debate, “is outside the realities”retorted the right-wing senator Gérard Longuet in the Hemicycle.


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“Nuclear energy must be the spearhead of French energy policy for the next thirty years”abounded the centrist Amel Gacquerre, noting however that “Central issues are not addressed” in the text, particularly on funding. Environmentalist Daniel Salmon has castigated “a range of measures for a maximalist nuclear revival”.

The provisions adopted by the senators may be reviewed following the parliamentary shuttle, during the second reading of the text in the National Assembly scheduled for March.

Tuesday evening, deputies and senators must also meet in a joint committee to try to find a compromise on the first part of the government’s legislative triptych on energy: the renewable energy acceleration bill.

After these two technical texts carried by the Minister of Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, is then expected, by the summer, the energy programming bill which must set the trajectories of France in each energy. A calendar contested by parliamentarians, who accuse the government of legislating in disorder. “We must respect the public debate”insisted the minister on Tuesday.

Read also: France is unlikely to meet its renewable energy development targets by the end of 2023

The World with AFP

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