Brief History of Nuclear Energy in France

France has a very long nuclear tradition that lead to the generation of electricity by splitting the atom.

1896: The nuclear pioneers such as Henri Becquerel who discovered spontaneous radioactivity

1898: Pierre and Marie Curie discover polonium and radium

1945: Creation of  the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). Frédéric Joliot is named first high commissionner for atomic Energy

1955: A joint project between the CEA and state-owned Électricité de France was launched to develop the first all-French nuclear reactor Marcoule, based on natural uranium gas-graphite technology.

1963: First commercial reactor connected to the grid  Chinon A-1 (on the Loire River)

1973: As the result of the oil crisis and embargo, the French government decides that security of supply is paramount. Nuclear energy was the energy of choice as France had no coal and no gas. Hydro power was developed in earnest in the early part of the 20th century as well and has peaked to reach around 20% of installed capacity.

1980s: This was the decade when France saw the most significant growth with the construction of up to eight reactors at the same time. The strategy was to build a nuclear fleet that would benefit from the “series effect” so as to optimize costs in particular with respect to maintenance.

2006: New law on transparency and security in the nuclear field, known as the “TSN law”, constitutes an in-depth overhaul of the legislative framework applicable to nuclear activities and their supervision. It creates the Nuclear Safety Authority, an independent administrative authority in charge of supervising nuclear safety and radiation protection and responsible for informing the public on these subjects.

2007: Construction  begins on France’s third-generation PWR reactor (EPR) in Flamanville, Normandy. It is now under commissioning.

Today, France has 56 reactors in operation on 18 sites and one EPR reactor under construction (Flamanville 3).

France’s well-established 900 MWe PWR design was sold to several export markets: South Africa (2), South Korea (2) and China (4):

  • two 900 MWe French reactors operating at Koeberg, near Cape Town in South Africa
  • two at Hanul/Ulchin in South Korea
  • four at Daya Bay/Ling Ao in China, near Hong Kong


  • The export of the EPR:
  • Finland (Olkiluoto 3 / commissioning phase)
  • China, with two units at Taishan that were commissioned in 2018 and 2019 respectively
  • United Kingdom: EDF Energy is building two units at Hinkley Point C