French nuclear set to become more expensive than wind power

The Court of Auditors in France has this week published a report revealing that the cost of producing nuclear energy is set to surge in France as old plants need updating and new safety standards put in place. Nuclear will require significant investment in the short and medium term at a rate of at least double the current level of investment, the Court says.

The total cost of the nuclear power industry in France –the world’s most nuclear-reliant country – since the beginning of the industry in the 50′s amounts to €188 billion, the report finds. Moreover, new plants are likely to be much more expensive to construct: Fessenheim, a nuclear plant in the Alsace region built in 1977 cost €1.07 million per MW of capacity whereas the EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) nuclear plant in Flamanville will cost €3.7 million per MW.

Today, the cost of producing nuclear energy in France is €49.5 /MWh of electricity produced says the report (however EDF currently sells its electricity at an artificially low price of €42 /MWh), but the cost of electricity made in EPR plants like Flamanville will be from €70-90 /MWh – more expensive than onshore wind energy.

The report also highlights massive uncertainties over the future cost of decommissioning nuclear plants, as well as doubt over the cost of dealing with nuclear waste.

France faces a choice, according to Futura Sciences, if it wishes to keep the level of nuclear power at its current 77.7% of electricity production: either it invests in costly improvements to its nuclear fleet of 58 reactors to extend its life and meet safety requirements (22 reactors will reach their life-limit by 2022), or it builds 11 new EPR reactors in less than 10 years. Or it makes the obvious choice and massively extends its use of a renewable energy that has very low maintenance costs and zero fuel costs – wind energy.

According to European Wind Energy Association analysis on the true costs of electricity, nuclear will cost €102 /MWh in 2020 – the average price across Europe taking into account the fact that nuclear plants take a long time to build which pushes up the initial capital cost. Onshore wind energy meanwhile will see a price drop by 2020 falling to €58 /MWh and offshore wind turbines will cost €75 /MWh.

 Zoë Casey,