I am translating here this article from the New York Times which looks back on the French nuclear crisis. Very often the best information about ourselves is found abroad, because we too have very complacent media that are well under orders far too often.
France’s nuclear power crisis thwarts Europe’s drive to ditch Russian power
“France generally exports electricity, but it now risks experiencing blackouts and having to import energy due to the problems encountered by the public nuclear operator.
PARIS — Plumes of steam recently rose above two reactors at the Chinon nuclear power plant, in the heart of France’s verdant Loire Valley. But the skies above a third reactor were exceptionally clear – its operations were frozen after the worrying discovery of cracks in the cooling system.
This partial shutdown is not unique: Almost half of France’s nuclear fleet, the largest in Europe, has been taken out of service as a storm of unexpected problems descends on the national energy operator nuclear, Electricity of France, or EDF.
As the European Union prepares to cut its ties with Russian oil and gas in the wake of Moscow’s war against Ukraine, France has relied on its nuclear power plants to cope with an energy shortage imminent. Nuclear energy provides approximately 70% of electricity in France, the largest share in the world.
But the industry has descended into an unprecedented energy crisis, with EDF facing problems ranging from the mysterious emergence of stress corrosion cracking at nuclear power plants to a hotter climate that is making it harder to cool aging reactors.
Blackouts at EDF, Europe’s largest electricity exporter, have caused France’s nuclear power output to plummet to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, pushing French electricity bills up to record highs just as the war in Ukraine is fueling broader inflation. Instead of pumping large amounts of electricity to Britain, Italy and other European countries turning away from Russian oil, France faces the unsettling prospect of triggering blackouts this winter and having to import energy.
EDF, already in debt to the tune of 43 billion euros (about $45 billion), is also exposed to a recent deal involving state-backed Russian nuclear operator Rosatom, which risks inflicting further financial hardship. to the French company. The problems have grown to such an extent that the government of President Emmanuel Macron has hinted that EDF may need to be nationalised.
“We cannot exclude it,” said Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the Minister for Energy Transition, on Tuesday. “We are going to need massive investments in EDF”.
The crisis could not have come at a worse time. Oil prices soared after the European Union agreed to cut Russian oil, which intensified economic pain in Europe and added to a cost of living crisis that France and other countries s are trying to solve. The price of natural gas, which France uses to compensate for fluctuations in nuclear power, has also increased.
As Russian aggression redefines Europe’s energy considerations, nuclear power advocates say it can help fill Europe’s energy gap, complementing a shift that was already underway to adapt wind, solar and other renewable energy to meet ambitious climate change goals.
But it will not be easy to resolve the EDF crisis.
With 56 reactors, the French nuclear fleet is the largest after that of the United States. A quarter of European electricity comes from nuclear energy in a dozen countries, France producing more than half.
But the French nuclear industry, built for the most part in the 1980s, has suffered for decades from a lack of new investment. Experts say it has lost valuable engineering skills due to retirements or transfers, which has impacted EDF’s ability to maintain existing plants or build new ones to replace them.
“EDF’s strategy, backed by the government, has been to delay reinvestment and system transformation,” said Yves Marignac, a nuclear energy specialist at negaWatt, a Paris think tank. “The longer EDF delays, the more skills are lost, the technical problems accumulate and there is a snowball effect. »
Mr Macron recently announced a 51.7 billion euro plan to rebuild France’s nuclear programme. EDF would build the first of up to 14 next-generation pressurized water reactors by 2035, along with smaller nuclear power plants – the cornerstone of a wider effort to bolster France’s energy independence and achieve climate goals.
But the few new nuclear reactors built by EDF have suffered huge cost overruns and delays. A pressurized water reactor built by EDF at Hinkley Point in south-west England will not start operating until 2027, four years late and too late to help Britain quickly shift away from oil and Russian gas. EDF’s newest nuclear power plant in Finland, which started operating last month, was supposed to be completed in 2009.
EDF’s recent problems started piling up just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company warned last winter that it was no longer able to produce a steady supply of nuclear power as it struggled to make up for a two-year backlog in the maintenance required for dozens of aging reactors. , a delay which was postponed during the periods of blockage due to the coronavirus. »
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Source New York Times here
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