France to close five nuclear reactors?

Without any official announcement having been made, French nuclear reactor operator EDF seems poised to close up to five reactors next year. What will this mean for the French energy market? Craig Morris investigates.

The french nuclear power plant at Nogent seen at sunset

Nogent and four more plants will only be restarted “if economically justified” (Photo by François Goglins, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

You would think, given French plans to transition from nuclear to renewables, that the sudden possibility of five reactors closing in a single year would draw some attention. The country has 58, so the closure of all five would equal 9% of the total. And although the original transition plan was adopted in 2015, not a single reactor has yet been closed – making five at once all the more striking.

Over at EDF’s website, downtimes are published. For Flamanville 2, Golfech 1, Nogent 1, and Tricastin 2, there are announcements of “modulation weeks” scheduled for the beginning of 2019. So far, so normal – but then there is the following sentence:

The positioning of this modulation week is provisional: it will be reassessed and the plant will be restarted if economically justified.

This sentence is highly unusual and probably unprecedented. Apparently, EDF is considering keeping these four nuclear reactors closed because of economics.

That doesn’t mean they will close; it’s possible that the company is just jockeying for better terms. In 2017, wholesale futures prices for baseload in 2020 came in at around 35 euros per megawatt-hour; extending the service lives of France’s aging fleet from 40 to 50 years has been estimated to require a price of at least 55 euros.

By declaring these reactors economically unfeasible, EDF could pull some generation capacity off the market, thereby boosting wholesale prices for the remaining fleet. This step could then also be spun as part of the country’s energy transition to renewables. But nothing at all has been reported about this matter. In the only relevant coverage on the web, Platts merely states that the French nuclear power production fell “to a record low” in the fourth quarter of 2017, and that the four reactors mentioned above will be taken off-line it this summer for “additional fuel-saving outages.” No mention is made of possible permanent closures in 2019. I could find no reports at all in French.

The fifth EDF reactor in question is Paluel 2. During an upgrade, when the facility was off, a 465-ton generator fell off a crane within the facility in March 2016, causing an earthquake. Reuters reports that the reopening scheduled to take place in April has now been postponed to June 2018, but EDF’s message leaves even that prolonged date open: “The duration of unavailability revised and may change according to multiple assessments and ongoing works.”

By law, French reactors automatically close permanently if they have been down for two years. In the case of Paluel 2, the postponement would put it beyond that deadline. But the French government saw this mess coming; last April, the (former) Environmental Minister Royal extended the deadline by another two years in a decree (in French). The law currently allows an extension of up to three years. As the French press reported (in French) at the time, the reactor was originally to be put back into operation in March 2017 – the month before the decree – but the date had been postponed to August and then subsequently to November 2017. The restart of Paluel has thus been postponed four times.

That report calls the accident “spectacular and unprecedented” and adds that postponing the deadline for reopening a reactor in order to prevent a permanent shutdown – the report was published a month before the decree – would also be “unprecedented.”

A sixth reactor is also in question. This one, Fessenheim, was expected – six years ago – to be the first one to be closed, but only in exchange for a new EPR reactor at Flamanville (which has yet to open). But even without Flamanville, the closure of Fessenheim is proving difficult. In January, French President Macron appointed Ecology and Solidarity Undersecretary Sébastien Lecornu to decide on the matter (report in French), a sign that the decision is highly political.

In official statements, EDF remains adamant about keeping all reactors open. At the end of January, it announced that no other reactor should be closed after Fessenheim until 2029 (report in French). But just days later, it quietly volunteered to shut down four reactors on economic grounds in 2019.

EDF did not respond to requests for comments for this report.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS. Hat tip to Juri Hertel for the story.


Craig Morris

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende.


  1. Avatar
    heinbloed says

    I have a question about the Palue 2 reactor:

    The decree giving an extra out-time for the reactor is limited to 1 year as far as I understood the media.
    The French law allows only for one extension decree to be issued and this decree is legally valid for a maximum of 1 year.
    Together with the 2 years since Paluel 2 shut down for maintenance ( 16/05/2015) the 1 year decree would end the reactor’s permit to operate 3 years after it’s initial first outage day.

    With the consequence that on 14th of May 2018 the last possible day ends on which Paluel 2 could be re-started.

    Is a 4 year outage legally possible (2+2)?

    Reuters reports that only 3 years are possible (2+1):



    (see last paragraph)

    The two-year extension mentioned by “” was a demand by EdF for a decree (26/01/2017) by Segelene Royal allowing two more years operating time for Fessenheim after 2016 :


    ” Nach Einschätzung von Minister Franz Untersteller habe sich die EDF mit der Entscheidung des Verwaltungsrates zur Annahme der Entschädigungszahlungen explizit auf die Stilllegung des AKW Fessenheim festgelegt, den bereits für Ende 2016 angekündigte Stilllegungsantrag jedoch noch nicht gestellt. Diesen Schritt habe die EDF an drei weitere Bedingungen geknüpft:

    1. Die Verlängerungen des Zeitpunkts bis zur endgültigen Außerbetriebnahme des seit knapp zwei Jahren stillstehenden AKW Paluel-2. Dieser Forderung sei die französische Umweltministerin Royal mit einem Dekret vom 26. Januar nachgekommen. Die Frist wurde um zwei Jahre verlängert.
    2. Die Verlängerung der auf 10 Jahre befristeten Baugenehmigung für den Euroreaktor (EPR) in Flamanville. Hier werde eine klarstellende Entscheidung der Ministerin erwartet, die in Kürze erfolgen solle.
    3. Die Entscheidung der EU-Kommission über die europarechtliche Zulässigkeit der Ausgleichsleistungen, die noch ausstehe aber demnächst getroffen werden solle.”

    So Fessenheim got the 2 year extension by Segelene Royal but not Paluel 2 as far as I understood.
    Segelene Royal only says in this decree that the situation in Paluel 2 would be solved according to the demands of EdF:

    ” …. l’arrêté ministériel prolongeant la durée d’arrêt de fonctionnement du réacteur n° 2 de Paluel, dans des termes satisfaisants pour EDF, …”

    (” … the ministerial decree extending the shutdown period of the Paluel reactor No. 2, in terms satisfactory to EDF, ….”)

    The new restart-date announced by EdF

    for Paluel 2 would be illegal if it was after the 14/05/2018 , 3 years after it’s closure for maintenance.
    And this is what EdF plans, they want to delay the restart until 05/06/2018 :that would be 3 weeks later than legally allowed.

    The decree mentioned

    deals only with the 2 year extension for Fessenheim, Paluel 2 is mentioned but no decree for an extended operation of Paluel 2 was issued at the time – as far as I can see.

    Maybe there was some other,some extra decree issued dealing with the return of Paluel 2 ?
    But this would not be legal if extending over the legal max. of 1 year which Segelene Royal could have issued legally ?

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  6. Avatar
    heinbloed says

    Re. power prices at the international exchange:

    In December 2017 and January 2018 French neighbors sold electricity in the day-ahead market for € 28.46/MWh resp. for € € 27.90/MWh


    It is cheaper to buy the power abroad and import it than to generate it in the national atom reactors.
    And the international deliveries are more reliable as well.

    Esp. the winter used to be the money harvesting time for the French bangers – but not anymore.
    The winter month are now as cheap for electricity as the summer month – thanks to RE.
    The difference between summer prices (when EdF makes traditionally no money!) and winter prices have disappeared, it is now one price more or less.

    EdF bets on market manipulation by taking 7 reactors from the market ( Fessenheim 1+2 are planned for final shut-down this year).

    In the UK EdF receives for atom and coal power plants a so-called capacity payment.
    It is only a question of time until all French atom power plants will depend officially on these subsidies.

  7. Avatar
    heinbloed says

    Come-back of coal power in France:

    machine translation:

    The 1.4% of national power generation by coal power plants will now increase once the waste-burning (plastics) starts.
    The waste stream is continuous, exporting it to China is not accepted anymore.
    And the non-bio waste like plastics would have to be counted in the national CO2 balance sheet.
    These re-fitted coal power plants (incinerators!) will run 24h/365 and not just as a cold back-up, they have no district heating connections so far which would allow for CHP.

  8. Avatar
    heinbloed says
  9. Avatar
    heinbloed says

    Yahoo-news from today (in French):

    referring to (in French):


    ” La décrue du nucléaire

    Avec une production de 379,1 milliards de kWh, le nucléaire reste le producteur principal d’électricité avec une part de 71,6 %. C’est 1,3 % de moins qu’en 2016. Cette hégémonie est en train de vivre ses dernières années. La loi de transition énergétique prévoit que la capacité nucléaire ne peut plus dépasser 63 gigawatts (GW). Mais selon les scénarios de RTE, cette capacité doit descendre dans les prochaines années à 55 GW sous peine de faire effondrer le prix de l’électricité pour cause de surproduction.”

    machine translation:

    ” The recession of the nuclear

    With a production of 379.1 billion kWh, nuclear power remains the main producer of electricity with a share of 71.6%. This is 1.3% less than in 2016. This hegemony is living its last years. The energy transition law provides that nuclear capacity can not exceed 63 gigawatts (GW). But according to the scenarios of RTE, this capacity must go down in the next years to 55 GW under pain of collapsing the price of electricity due to overproduction.”

    So 8 GW atom power have to close for financial reasons.


    1 reactor in St. Alban (St Alban 2 ) seems to be registered for closure as well:


    Another cryptical message from EdF :

  10. Avatar
    heinbloed says

    Cracked reactor Bugey 5 burning and leaking

    The reactor Bugey 5 which was patched up with putty and lime wash

    is leaking Tritium, the drinking water gathered from the river Rhone is polluted ‘below legal levels’:

    machine translation:

    If the Swiss water authorities released additional water from the Lake of Geneva to supply Bugey with extra cooling water (as claimed) or extra diluting water to avoid panicking during the drought last summer needs to be investigated:

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  12. Avatar
    Lincoln says

    This is actually very optimistic as there are many ongoing interesting projects happening in France, like residential solar inverter with integrated AI for example.
    Personally I think that with its strong economy France can easily support a growth of renewables comparable to one in Germany.

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