The Future of Nuclear Energy in France

Jad Fidawi
February 16, 2021

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2021


Fig. 1: Aerial view of Civaux nuclear power plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

France is one of the biggest producer of nuclear energy in the world, with its share of nuclear power equaling 76% of the entire electricity production in the country. [1] This proportionality is very high compared to the 11% share of nuclear energy in global electric production. [2] Nuclear energy's greatest advantage is the ability to generate power with little to no contribution to carbon emissions, which can aid significantly in the battle against climate change. However, the greatest challenge faced against nuclear power is the risk against catastrophic accidents and further environmental costs of disposing of waste, which makes nuclear power politically controversial. With other countries already beginning to shift away from nuclear power, will France, a country heavily reliant on this resource, do the same?

Current State of Nuclear Energy in France

France currently has 58 operational nuclear power plants, second in the world to the United States. [1,3] Two units are located in Civaux, in western France, as shown by Fig. 1. In 2006 alone, France's reactors produced a combined total of 450 TWh of electricity. [4] France's heavy reliance on nuclear energy originates from the oil crisis in the 1970s, which helped it shift away from petroleum imports and become more energy independent. [5] Thanks to this, CO2 emissions per capita decreased at a rate of 1.5% for the following two decades, making France among the lowest CO2 emitters in Western Europe. France's successfully strong nuclear presence is reinforced by that the country is the biggest exporter of electricity in Europe, a significant economic booster. [6]

Moving Away from Nuclear

Despite France leading the world in the realm of nuclear power, the latter has been the source of several issues in France. To begin with, public resentment plays a role in the uncertainty in the development of nuclear energy. Given that every nuclear reactor used for electricity generation is state-owned, people have become opposed to the information asymmetry regarding the location, safety, and political and economic implications of the nuclear reactors. This has been the root cause for the anti-nuclear movements since the beginning of the French implementation of the nuclear reactor in the 1970s. [7] In addition, among the 58 nuclear power plants in France, 37 were built before 1985, hence their lifetime will reach an end within the next 15 years. [2] While the power plants could be replaced or renovated to prolong their operational life, it is likely that the government will order the closure of many of these reactors, to be in line with its energy goals. France's National Assembly has approved the Energy Transition for Green Growth bill in 2015, which aims to decrease the share of nuclear energy to 50% of power generation by 2025. [2] While an immediate nuclear phase-out in 2020 would have cost up to 76 billion euros, with the costs mostly borne on France and some on other European countries, the current objectives costs have not yet been made public. [2] The additional costs to the European power system would stem from the low availability of the low-cost nuclear power in France. [2]

Moving Towards Renewable?

France is currently taking steps to improve its stance on renewable energy. The Energy Transition for Green Growth bill also aims to increase the share of renewable energy to 35% of total electric production by 2030. [8] The types of renewables that are steadily growing are mainly solar and wind. [1] Renewable generation in France is expected to go from 152 TWh in 2020 up to 277 TWh in 2050, an 82% increase. [2] However, renewable energy output is highly variable, and would require operational backup. [1] This is especially important in the winter season, when electricity consumption peaks.


In conclusion, France has enjoyed a strong nuclear presence which has contributed to low carbon emissions and improved their economy due to large exportation of electricity. The governments objectives, to reduce nuclear and increase renewable energy production, seem reasonable for the following reasons. On one hand, a nuclear phase-out would reduce the public's lack of trust in the government's nuclear operations, and the switch to renewable energy could create numerous jobs and incentives. On the other hand, it would be very costly to replace base-load technologies to renewables on a large scale. [2] Hence, it is a good idea to keep 50% of electricity production coming from nuclear power in the medium term at least, as the infrastructure is present, and it is a reliable source of energy. It is also worth considering extending the lifetime of several nuclear reactors until the right renewable resources are determined for large-scale implementation. [1]

© Jad Fidawi. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. Cany et al., "Nuclear and Intermittent Renewables: Two Compatible Supply Options? The Case of the French Power Mix," Energy Policy 95, 135 (2016).

[2] R. Malischek and J. Trüby, "The Future of Nuclear Power in France: an Analysis of the Costs of Phasing-Out," Energy 116, 908 (2016).

[3] "Nuclear Power Reactors in the World," Reference Data Series No. 2, 2019.

[4] "Nuclear Legislation in OECD and NEA Countries: France," Nuclear Energy Agency, 2011.

[5] J. B. Ang, "CO2 Emissions, Energy Consumption, and Output in France," Energy Policy 35, 4772 (2007).

[6] D. Scamman and M. Newborough, "Using Surplus Nuclear Power for Hydrogen Mobility and Power-to-Gas in France," Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 41, 10080 (2016).

[7] D. Rucht, "Campaigns, Skirmishes and Battles: Anti-Nuclear Movements in the USA, France and West Germany," Industrial Crisis Quarterly 4, No. 3, 193 (1990).

[8] N. Tazi and Y. Bouzidi, "Evolution of Wind Energy Pricing Policies in France: Opportunities and Wew Challenges," Energy Rep. 6, Suppl. 1, 687 (2020).