October 3, 2018 / 1:51 PM / 17 days ago

French energy plan to go slow on cutting nuclear dependency

* Low-carbon focus to prevent near-term nuclear closures

* No closures seen beyond Fessenheim during Macron term

By Benjamin Mallet

PARIS, Oct 3 (Reuters) - France will adopt a go-slow approach to reducing its reliance on nuclear energy, with a focus on cutting carbon emissions, in its new long-term energy plan this month, industrial sources said.

“This scenario has been put forward in order to maintain a high share of nuclear and to protect the interests of the state as (power utility) EDF shareholder,” an energy industry executive who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters.

France’s long-awaited energy plan (PPE) for 2019-2023 and 2024-2028 is set to lay out how and by when it will cut the share of nuclear in its overall power generation to 50 percent from 75 percent and to detail how many of EDF’s 58 nuclear plants will have to close to achieve that target.

Several sources involved with drafting the plan said that it will be framed by the energy ministry’s 2050 low-carbon strategy and will attempt to preserve EDF’s nuclear fleet.

An EDF source said that the low-carbon strategy is set to protect 83.7 percent state-owned EDF from nuclear closures through a focus on phasing out fossil-fueled stations.

The EDF source said it was unlikely the plan would require any closures before the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s term in 2022 apart from the already scheduled shutdown of the two Fessenheim reactors, unless regulator ASN ordered any.

Macron is a staunch defender of the nuclear industry, but is under pressure from the left wing of his centrist movement following the resignation of his popular environment minister Nicolas Hulot and ahead of European elections next year.

Hulot resigned in frustration over sluggish progress on climate goals and nuclear energy policy.

The PPE could possibly buy more time by delaying a decision on which reactors will have to be closed until ASN has given a generic ruling on the feasibility of lifespan extension, which is not expected before 2020.

EDF has repeatedly said it wants to extend the lifespan of its nuclear plants from 40 to 50 and even 60 years and does not plan any reactor closures before 2029 other than Fessenheim.

French daily Les Echos reported on Wednesday that EDF proposes closing 7 to 12 reactors between 2029 and 2035, while grid-operator RTE considers six of EDF’s oldest reactors could be closed between 2024 and 2028.

The PPE is also expected to advise on EDF’s long-standing request to build a new nuclear plant once it completes the long-delayed Flamanville reactor.

New environment minister François de Rugy has said it first needs to prove the viability of Flamanville. (Reporting by Benjamin Mallet Writing by Geert De Clercq Editing by Alexander Smith)

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