Strategically, this seems like it matters.
The French nuclear power plants are the backbone of the EU grid, but this winter, just when Europe is trying to not-buy-Russian-Gas, the French might need to import power instead of export it.
France runs off 70% nuclear power — it’s highest proportion in the world, and the second largest fleet — after the USA. For some reason, known only to international bankers or Renewable Gods, Early in Macron’s reign, he decided to reduce the carbon-free reliable nukes to just 50% by 2035 and fill the gap with short-lived, unreliable generators that cost a lot, need storage, backup, rare metals from China and slave labor from the Congo. Perhaps he was afraid (or whoever it was that helped him get elected) that France would show up all the schmuck-countries going to renewables?
But then the gas crisis started in Europe last October, and like clockwork, in November President Macron muttered the words “energy independence” and belatedly announced that it wasn’t such a bad idea to build some new nuclear plants. As things got more serious, in late February the French nuclear safety authority decided to extend the life of the 32 oldest reactors for another ten years and is now planning to retire them at age 50.
Bu by the end of April 27 nuclear reactors were out of action. Odd cracks had been discovered in five reactors last year due to corrosion and that had expanded to six more plants. A couple of weeks ago another one was taken off-line — so that’s 28 out 56 of EDF’s reactors. And some of these are slow repairs. There are already worries that there won’t be enough back in time for winter to keep the lights on in France without expensive imports during an energy crisis.
Interestingly, the plants that unexpectedly need maintenance are the newer ones with “convoluted pipes”. Prices of electricity are already higher in France. Don’t let anyone tell you the old plants are the cause of the rise!
Jesper Starn Bloomberg
Twenty-eight reactors are offline as Electricite de France SA struggles with extended outages after corrosion issues were found at some sites, requiring lengthy checks and repairs. The extra works come on top of already scheduled halts for refueling and regular maintenance, and has brought French nuclear output to the lowest in more than decade for the time of year.
Western Europe has for decades relied on exports of power from EDF’s nuclear fleet. The cuts are another blow to European energy security just as the region is weaning itself off Russian supplies of everything from natural gas to coal and oil because of the war in Ukraine.
EDF Sees Bigger Earnings Hit as It Cuts Nuclear Outlook
The big test will come when temperatures start to fall toward the end of the year. It won’t take many days of cold weather to jeopardize French power supplies, according to Emeric de Vigan, chief executive officer at French energy analysis firm COR-e.
“Which such poor nuclear availability, if we reach 2 degrees Celsius below normal in the winter for a few days we could be in trouble, it would be really tight,” de Vigan said. Paying customers and factories to lower consumption are steps that likely will need to be taken, he said.
The problem is with the new reactors not the old ones
Perhaps the designers got a bit too tricky?
EDF’s newer reactors seem to be most affected because of the design of some of their piping, which is longer and more convoluted, Clement said. The cracks tend to show up very close to welds at the pipes’ elbows, most likely because of a vortex of hot and cold water, and possibly because of how the welds were done.
Europe’s Biggest Exporter of Power Might Need Imports in Winter
The challenges for the utility are now so great that President Emmanuel Macron has suggested some of its key activities could be nationalized as part of a broader plan to bolster the country’s energy independence.
At least he’s not proposing to give control to the EU or the UN. It could be worse.
JoNova is A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).
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