February 4, 2023

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France’s Senate to speed up construction of nuclear power plants

Abroad By a very large majority

France’s Senate approves fast-track construction of nuclear power plants

French Senate (archive image from January 2022)

French Senate (archive image from January 2022)

Source: pa/dpa/MAXPPP/Lp/Arnaud Journois

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Approval could hardly be more rare: With a vote of 239 to 16, the French Senate voted on Tuesday to accelerate the construction of 14 new nuclear power plants. “It’s not a waste of time,” said Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s energy minister.

DThe French Senate voted on Tuesday to speed up the construction of nuclear power plants. The Upper House of the French Parliament passed the bill on first reading by 239 votes to 16. The senators also scrapped France’s official target to cut the share of nuclear power from the current 70 percent to 50 percent by 2035.

“This is about not wasting any time,” Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said at the start of the debate. According to the proposed law, construction work on the reactor’s outbuildings could begin while public debate on the construction plan is underway.

In the future, construction of new reactors will not require approval from the municipal level, as the government will monitor compliance with standards. This does not mean that conservation, biodiversity conservation or public participation will be restricted.

Former French President François Hollande in 2015 insisted that France reduce its share of nuclear power to 50 percent. For this, 14 nuclear power plants have to be removed from the power grid. In fact, the two oldest nuclear reactors at Fessenheim were shut down.

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However, President Emmanuel Macron changed strategy a year ago and announced the construction of up to 14 new nuclear reactors. They are similar to the only EPR reactor still under construction at Flamanville, but with a simplified diagram.

The new reactors are to be built in pairs on the site of existing nuclear power plants. The first two at Penley and the next two at Graveline, each to be built on the shores of the English Channel.

The law will go to the National Assembly in March, which may still amend the text. However, the text has already provoked strong reactions. The French branch of environmental group Greenpeace called the changes introduced by senators “disgraceful”. There is also legislation on the broad lines of energy policy later in the year.

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