At a time when France is realising its dependence on certain resources, measures, laws and action plans are being put in place to enable the country to free itself from concerns, particularly about energy. Nuclear power is one of the major challenges facing our generation in terms of energy dependency
The government’s objectives
The government’s objective now is to speed up construction of the EPR2 (European Pressurized Reactor 2) reactors. For example, the project for the first pair of EPR2s has been located at the Penly power station, near the Channel coast. It is therefore possible to build new reactors by the sea, but only if they are built close to an existing power station.
Another of the Head of State’s wishes for the future is to prioritise the use of existing power plants.
In order to maintain existing power plants, measures have been adopted to improve safety and security. The challenge now is to take climate change into account in the development of this energy. Power plants consume a lot of water, which could exacerbate the current drought. Even if the water withdrawn to cool the plants is returned to the original environment, the rest ends up as steam. So we need to innovate and find solutions that respect the flora and fauna around power stations.
Plant safety, maintenance and innovation
In terms of safety, the government has presented a plan to reform nuclear safety and radiation protection research. This involves merging the ASN (Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire) and the IRSN (Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire). This merger will improve responsiveness.
To remain attractive, both economically and in terms of the younger generations of EPRs, nuclear power must be innovative and demonstrate its safety. Research is being carried out to build new reactors that are both efficient and more robust and durable over time.
For future reactors, intensive research is being carried out on the EPR 4, which uses neutrons, and on other types of reactor such as SMRs (Small Modular Reactors). EDF is also working on a project for the hybridisation of nuclear power plants. Hybrid reactors could provide electricity by producing hydrogen. As far as manufacturing is concerned, systems are being devised to improve efficiency and facilitate construction and site maintenance, with rapid analysis of welds using artificial intelligence, for example.
Innovations are also needed in maintenance to enable power plants to achieve this objective of a longer lifespan while remaining safe. In the future, sensors, blockchain technologies, statistical analysis tools, artificial intelligence, etc. will make it possible to secure and maintain structures as effectively as possible so that they remain operational for as long as possible.
These laws to speed up procedures linked to the construction of new energy creation systems will certainly enable France to be less dependent from an energy point of view. In terms of the environment, this is obviously an important issue to take into account in research and development to build power plants that are less destabilising for the environment.