France has drafted legislation to streamline bureaucracy associated with the building of new nuclear power plants, in a major signal of intent.
The move is part of a wider policy shift as it aims to double down on its nuclear and renewable energy facilities amid the continuing global energy crunch.
“This draft law responds to the urgency of the crisis,” government spokesman Olivier Veran said after a cabinet meeting that adopted the draft bill this week.
Veran said the bill, due to be submitted to the National Assembly in late December or early January, would not “in any way water down our requirements in terms of respect for the environment or of safety of nuclear infrastructures”.
President Emmanuel Macron has put nuclear power at the heart of his country’s drive for carbon neutrality by 2050, with plans to build at least six new reactors.
An energy ministry official said in September the aim was to start construction of the first next generation EPR2 reactor at Penly in Normandy before the end of the presidential term, before May 2027, with commercial operations at that reactor startng from 2035-37.
Ministry officials reiterated that timetable this week.
The latest news comes as France’s nuclear fleet has come under scrutiny, with repairs at power stations forcing a number of reactors offline and sending nuclear power production in the country recently to a 30-year low, exacerbating Europe’s energy crisis.
“The goal is that administrative authorisations are delivered within delays that allow us to meet the construction timetable of the EPR (European Pressurized Reactors),” Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Les Echos newspaper.
“It is a draft law to ease administrative authorisations on nuclear reactors that will be built near existing nuclear plants,” she said, adding this concerned administrative issues, not the decisions to build the plants.
When asked how much time could be saved thanks to the draft law, Veran said that one must think “in terms of years”.
Energy giant EDF plans to construct the reactors on three existing sites: two at Penly, in the Seine-Maritime administrative department, two at Gravelines, in northern France, and two in either Bugey, eastern France, or Tricastin, in southern France.
The government estimates the six new reactors will cost 51.7 billion euros ($51.2 billion).