FRANCE -THE MOST NUCLEARISED POWER COUNTRY
France has 59 nuclear reactors operated by ElectricitÃ© de France (EdF) with total capacity of over 63 GWe, supplying over 430 billion kWh per year of electricity, 78% of the total generated there. In 2005 French electricity generation was 549 billion kWh net and consumption 482 billion kWh - 7700 kWh per person. Over the last decade France has exported 60-70 billion kWh net each year and EdF expects exports to continue at 65-70 TWh/yr.
The present situation is due to the French government deciding in 1974, just after the first oil shock, to expand rapidly the country's nuclear power capacity. This decision was taken in the context of France having substantial heavy engineering expertise but few indigenous energy resources. Nuclear energy, with the fuel cost being a relatively small part of the overall cost, made good sense in minimising imports and achieving greater energy security.
As a result of the 1974 decision, France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of CO2 emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.
France's nuclear power program has cost some FF 400 billion in 1993 currency, excluding interest during construction. Half of this was self-financed by ElectricitÃ© de France, 8% (FF 32 billion) was invested by the state but discounted in 1981, and 42% (FF 168 billion) was financed by commercial loans. In 1988 medium and long-term debt amounted to FF 233 billion, or 1.8 times EdF's sales revenue. However, by the end of 1998 EdF had reduced this to FF 122 billion, about two thirds of sales revenue (FF 185 billion) and less than three times annual cash flow. Net interest charges had dropped to FF 7.7 billion (4.16% of sales) by 1998.
In 2006 EdF sales revenue was EUR 58.9 billion and debt had fallen to EUR 14.9 billion - 25% of this.
TThe cost of nuclear-generated electricity fell by 7% from 1998 to 2001 and is now about EUR 3 cents/kWh, which is very competitive in Europe. The back-end costs (reprocessing, wastes disposal, etc) are fairly small when compared to the total kWh cost, typically about 5%.
From being a net electricity importer through most of the 1970s, France now has steadily growing net exports of electricity, and is the world's largest net electricity exporter, with electricity being France's fourth largest export. (Next door is Italy, without any operating nuclear power plants. It is Europe's largest importer of electricity, most coming ultimately from France.) The UK has also become a major customer for French electricity.
France's nuclear reactors comprise 90% of EdF's capacity and hence are used in load-following mode and are even sometimes closed over weekends, so their capacity factor is low by world standards, at 77.3%. However, availability is almost 84%.
The first eight power reactors were gas-cooled, as championed by the Atomic Energy Authority (CEA), but EdF then chose pressurised water reactor (PWR) types, supported by new enrichment capacity.
Apart from one experimental fast breeder reactor (Phenix), all French units are now PWRs of three standard types designed by Framatome - now Areva NP (the first two derived from US Westinghouse types): 900 MWe (34), 1300 MWe (20) and 1450 MWe N4 type (4). This is a higher degree of standardisation than anywhere else in the world. (Another large fast reactor - Super Phenix - was commissioned but then closed for political reasons.)
The 900 MWe reactors all had their lifetimes extended by ten years in 2002, after their second 10-yearly review. Most started up late 1970s to early 1980s, and they are reviewed together in a process that takes four months at each unit. A review of the 1300 MWe class followed and in October 2006 the regulatory authority cleared all 20 units for an extra ten years' operation conditional upon minor modifications at their 20-year outages over 2005-14.
In the light of operating experience, EdF uprated its four Chooz and Civaux N4 reactors fom 1455 to 1500 MWe each in 2003.
France has exported its PWR reactor technology to Belgium, South Africa, South Korea and China. There are two 900 MWe French reactors operating at Koeberg, near Capetown in South Africa, two at Ulchin in South Korea and four at Daya Bay and Lingao in China, near Hong Kong.
Framatome in conjunction with Siemens in Germany then developed the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), based on the French N4 and the German Konvoi types, to meet the European Utility Requirements and also the US EPRI Utility Requirements. This was confirmed in 1995 as the new standard design for France and it received French design approval in 2004.
In mid 2004 the board of EdF decided in principle to build the first demonstration unit of an expected series of 1630 MWe Areva NP EPRs, and this decision was confirmed in May 2006, after public debate. The overnight capital cost is expected to be EUR 3.3 billion, and power from it EUR 4.6 c/kWh - about the same as from new combined cycle gas turbine at current gas prices and with no carbon emission charge. Series production costs are projected at about 20% less. EDF then submitted a construction licence application. Site works at Flamanville on the Normandy coast should be complete and the first concrete poured about the end of 2007, with construction taking 57 months and completion expected in 2012. EdF is aiming to firm up an industrial partnership with other European utilities or power users for its construction. (Finland is also building an EPR unit at Olkiluoto.)
In August 2005 EdF announced that it plans to replace its 58 present reactors with EPR nuclear reactors from 2020, at the rate of about one 1600 MWe unit per year. It would require 40 of these to reach present capacity. This will be confirmed about 2015 on the basis of experience with the initial EPR unit at Flamanville - use of other designs such as Westinghouse's AP1000 or GE's ASBWR is possible. EdF's development strategy selected the nuclear replacement option on the basis of nuclear's "economic performance, for the stability of its costs and out of respect for environmental constraints."
There have been two significant fast breeder reactors in France. Near Marcoule is the 233 MWe Phenix reactor, which started operation in 1974. It was shut down for modification 1998-2003 and is expected to run for a further few years.
A second unit was Super-Phenix of 1200 MWe, which started up in 1996 but was closed down for political reasons at the end of 1998 and is now being decommissioned. The operation of Phenix is fundamental to France's research on waste disposal, particularly transmutation of actinides. See further information in R&D section below.
All but four of EdF's nuclear power plants (14 reactors) are inland, and require fresh water for cooling. Eleven of the 15 inland plants (32 reactors) have cooling towers, using evaporative cooling, the others use simply river or lake water directly. With regulatory constraints on the temperature increase in receiving waters, this means that in very hot summers generation output may be limited
France uses some 12,400 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate (10,500 tonnes of U) per year for its electricity generation. Much of this comes from Areva in Canada (4500 tU/yr) and Niger (3200 tU/yr) together with other imports, principally from Australia, Kazakhstan and Russia, mostly under long-term contracts.
Beyond this, it is self-sufficient and has conversion, enrichment, uranium fuel fabrication and MOX fuel fabrication plants operational (together with reprocessing and a waste management program). Most fuel cycle activities are carried out by Areva NC.
Uranium concentrates are converted to hexafluoride at the 14,000 t/yr Comurhex Pierrelatte plant in the Rhone Valley, which commenced operation in 1959. In May 2007 Areva NC announced plans for a new conversion project - Comurhex II - with facilities at Malvesi and Tricastin to strengthen its global position in the front end of the fuel cycle. The EUR 610 million facility will have a capacity of 15,000 tU/yr from 2012, with scope for increase to 21,000 tU/yr.
Enrichment then takes place at the 1978 Eurodif plant at Tricastin nearby, with 10.8 million SWU capacity (enough to supply some 81,000 MWe of generating capacity - about one third more than France's total).
In 2003 Areva agreed to buy a 50% stake in Urenco's Enrichment Technology Company (ETC), which comprises all its centrifuge R&D, design and manufacturing activities. The deal will enable Areva to use Urenco/ETC technology to replace its 10.8 million SWU/yr Eurodif gas diffusion enrichment plant at Tricastin.
The final agreement after approval by the four governments involved was signed in mid 2006, and the construction licence was approved by ASN in February 2007. The EUR 3 billion two-unit plant, with nominal annual capacity of 7.5 million SWU, will be built and operated by Areva NC subsidiary Societe d'Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET). The first stages of the first unit are expected to begin operating in 2009 and it will reach full capacity in 2014. The second unit will follow four years behind.
Enrichment will be up to 6% U-235, and reprocessed uranium will only be handled in the second, north unit.
When fully operational in 2018 the whole plant will free up some 3000 MWe of Tricastin nuclear power plant's capacity for the French grid - over 20 billion kWh/yr (@ 4 c/kWh this is EUR 800 million/yr). The new enrichment plant investment is equivalent to buying new power capacity @ EUR 1000/kW.
Fuel fabrication is at several Areva plants in France and Belgium.
Japan's Nuclear Program
Over three decades have passed since Japan's first commercial nuclear power plant began operation in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1966. As of March 2002, Japan has fifty-two reactors operating around the country with a total output of 45,742 megawatts (MW). Nuclear power accounts for approximately one-third of the country's total electric power output.
As an island country, it is impossible for Japan to exchange energy with neighboring countries through power transmission lines or pipelines. Japan is also energy-scarce, depending on foreign countries for about 80 percent of its energy resources. These conditions are completely different from those of Europe or the U.S.; therefore, the government of Japan concludes that it is rational to continue making the fullest possible use of nuclear power generation as one of the mainstays of the nation's energy supply. Nuclear power generation contributes to improved energy sufficiency and to the stability of the energy supply, in addition to playing an important role in reducing Japan's carbon dioxide emissions.
Of course, nuclear power represents only one cornerstone in a comprehensive energy policy; one designed to meet the growing energy needs of Japan and based on an ideal mixture that includes thermal power and hydroelectric power. Japan's electric power companies are prepared to meet this demand in the 21st century, and in the process, ensure that nuclear energy be used solely for peaceful purposes, and under the safest possible conditions.
While placing the highest priority on nuclear safety, Japanese electric power companies will continue their efforts to develop nuclear power generation as a base power source that plays an important role in Japan's electric power supply in order to secure a steady supply of electricity and address global environmental problems.