“In France, as of 2002, Électricité de France (EDF) — the country’s main electricity generation and distribution company — manages the country’s 59 nuclear power plants. As of 2008, these plants produce 87.5% of both EDF’s and France’s electrical power production (of which much is exported), making EDF the world leader in production of nuclear power by percentage. In 2004, 425.8 TWh out of the country’s total production of 540.6 TWh was from nuclear power (78.8%).
France is the world’s largest net exporter of electric power, exporting 18% of its total production (about 100 TWh) to Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and Germany, and its electricity cost is among the lowest in Europe.
Drawing such a large percentage of overall electrical production from nuclear power is unique to France. This reliance has resulted in certain necessary deviations from the standard design and function of other nuclear power programs. For instance, in order to meet changing demand throughout the day, some plants must work as load following plants, whereas most nuclear plants in the world operate as base load plants, and allow other fossil or hydro units to adjust to demand. Nuclear power in France has a total capacity factor of around 77%, which is low due to load following. However availability is around 84%, indicating excellent overall performance of the plants.
The first 8 power reactors in the nation were gas cooled reactor types (UNGG reactor), whose development was pioneered by CEA. Coinciding with a uranium enrichment program, EdF developed pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology which eventually became the dominant type. The gas-cooled reactors located at Brennilis, Bugey, Chinon, and Marcoule have all been shut down.
All operating plants today are PWRs with the exception of the Phénix, which was part of an initiative to develop sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor technology. The Superphénix, a larger, more ambitious version, has been shut down.
The PWR plants were all developed by Framatome (which is now Areva) from the initial Westinghouse design. All of the PWR plants are one of three variations of the design, having output powers of 900MWe, 1300 MWe, and 1450 MWe. The repeated use of these standard variants of a design has afforded France the greatest degree of nuclear plant standardization in the world.”