French nuclear sector steps up global expansion plans

(Credit: [Gilles Paire/Shutterstock])

Main actors in the French nuclear sector underline the importance of the national market for it to achieve a greater global reach. EURACTIV France reports.

Despite the EPR setbacks (the construction of two European Pressurised Reactors behind schedule), France’s experience in the nuclear sector remains an important asset as the electricity needs of developing countries soar. According to the main actors of the French nuclear sector, this experience will only matter if France continues to invest in its domestic nuclear sector.

“France is considered the global leader in nuclear power, but it must continue to be innovative through investment in research and development,” explains Christophe Behar, the director of nuclear energy at the French commission on atomic energy (CEA).

The great streamlining

The French nuclear industry emerged in the 1950s. Seen as a means for Charles De Gaulle of gaining national independence, the industry is now criticised by ecologists, but also by other EU member states, notably Germany, who turned from nuclear power after the Fukushima accident.

The French, however, did not completely reject nuclear energy after Fukushima. President François Hollande promised to close France’s oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, however it is still operational. The nuclear sector remains a major source of economic activity for France.

The French energy company EDF, which controls most of France’s nuclear portfolio, has undertaken what is termed the “great overhaul”, a controversial project to prolong the lifetime of existing French nuclear plants.

“We will prolong the operational life of existing nuclear plants by 40 years. By 2020 there will be approximately 110,000 new recruits in the sector. France still has the assets necessary to be at the head of the global nuclear sector,” said Valérie Levkov, vice-president of nuclear engineering development at EDF.

According to Gérard Kottman, the director of Valinox Nucléaire and president of AIFEN (the Association of French Nuclear Exporters), the programme is a good start, but must do more.

“The great streamlining programme provides a basis to strengthen production tools of component suppliers, which would allow the French sector to become more competitive on the export market. This depends of course on whether the French industrial sector can profit from the maintenance market. If this happens, it would be invaluable to exporting French know-how.”

Targeting the Chinese market

For Gérard Kottman, French nuclear companies need to be prepared and above all target the Chinese market: “Subcontractors must be prepared for a growth of the market, and particularly, they must target China, where the future of the nuclear sector lies. Russia should not be neglected either. Indeed, the French nuclear sector appeals to Russians in terms of nuclear exportation.”

The World Nuclear Exhibition

To promote French know-how in the nuclear sector, a world nuclear exhibition entitled the “Bourget du nucléaire” will be held in Paris (October 2014). Kottman outlines that “the objective of the show is to attract international clients to French soil by drawing on the influence of important French actors and companies.”

Areva, the global leader in nuclear energy, will play a predominant role.

“France is the number one exporter of nuclear equipment, with almost €6 billion per year. Two thirds of Areva’s turnover is thanks to exports and two thirds of our employers are in France, which shows the importance of exports for the future of the French nuclear industry. For us the Flamanville nuclear plant is a showcase for exports,” explains David Pauvert, Avreva’s commercial director for Europe, the Middle-East and Africa.


The French nuclear sector is the largest in the world in terms of the number of reactors per inhabitant. In February 2014, EDF launched “the great streamlining” programme which aims to prolong the operational life of French nuclear plants by 40 years. In total, EDF plans to invest €55 billion in the renovation of France’s 58 nuclear power plants.


  • 14-16 octobre 2014: Bourget du nucléaire à Paris

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