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. The nuclear pioneers such as Henri Becquerel who discovered spontaneous radioactivity in 1896, and Pierre and Marie Curie with their discovery of polonium and radium, are a testament to this. Although the first nuclear facilities were built in France in 1959 (Marcoule) and 1963 respectively (Chinon A), France’s nuclear power programme took off in large scale in 1973 as the result of the oil crisis and embargo. The government at the time decided that security of supply was 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.

The 1980s 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.

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). There are two 900 MWe French reactors operating at Koeberg, near Cape Town in South Africa, two at Hanul/Ulchin in South Korea and four at Daya Bay/Ling Ao in China, near Hong Kong. The EPR was sold to Finland (Olkiluoto 3 / commissioning phase) and China, with two units at Taishan that were commissioned in 2018 and 2019 respectively.