France’s reliance on nuclear energyThe total number of reactors peaked between 2000 and 2005, with 59 nuclear reactors generating electricity across France. Consequently, 2006 accounted for the largest gross nuclear electricity production in the history of France’s nuclear industry. After a slow decline since 2015, France’s nuclear electricity generation was the smallest in at least 20 years. Despite this fall, nuclear power still accounted for almost 70 percent of France’s energy production in 2021.
Electricity production and distribution is managed by Electricité de France (EDF), the first electricity producer and provider in Europe. While having an international presence, most of its revenue is generated in France, which amounted to more than 50 billion euros in 2021. EDF owns the totality of the nuclear power plants in France and nuclear power represented almost 90 percent of EDF’s electricity production in 2020.
Nuclear fuel cycleStarting its civilian and military program after World War II, France has a long history of uranium production. In 2021, French leader Orano (formerly called Areva) was the second largest worldwide uranium producing company. Overall, France’s nuclear fuel fabrication capacities are expected to stay stable, at around 1.6 thousand tons of heavy metal until at least 2035. It comes as no surprise that 60 percent of radioactive waste stored in France was generated by the nuclear industry. Nuclear waste may be the most notorious controversy surrounding nuclear energy, but France is one of few countries in the world to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Despite the high cost of fuel reprocessing compared to disposal, closing the nuclear fuel cycle has many positive sides. Reducing the radioactivity of the reprocessed nuclear waste and recovering recyclable nuclear fuel are among them.
Further debate on nuclear energyAnother controversy concerns nuclear incidents, especially since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. More than 40 percent of the respondents to a survey on nuclear power conducted in France in 2021 declared that they were opposed to nuclear energy. In fact, the number of events related to ionizing radiation exposure registered in France rose to over 1,400 events in 2021.
Weather induced power outages in nuclear plants, which have frequently occurred in France since 2018, are unplanned events that can affect the electricity supply of the country. As documented by the World Nuclear Report 2022, anomalies in their cooling systems lead to a sudden shutdown of several French nuclear reactors, with the loss of six gigawatts of capacity in winter 2021-2022. By 2025, EDF plans to carry out an inspection of its nuclear fleet, leaving the French population worried for the low electricity production expected in winter 2022.