Nearly half of French nuclear reactors taken out of service, adding to demand for electricity on the European grid | Climate News
Nearly half of France‘s nuclear power plants are currently out of service, energy supplier Electricité de France (EDF) has confirmed.
Currently, 27 of France’s 56 reactors have been shut down due to routine maintenance or faults, forcing EDF to buy power from the European grid instead, at a time when demand is soaring amid the gas crisis.
France’s troubles have raised questions from critics about the reliability of nuclear and Britain’s recent big bets on the power source.
Why the reactors were shut down
Of particular concern are the five reactors that were shut down after corrosion-caused cracks were identified in the piping last year, and tests are underway to determine the severity of the problem.
EDF suspects corrosion at least six other plants, will stop three especially for tests, and will test at least three others during routine maintenance.
The company, which provides all of France’s atomic energy, confirmed that it was importing electricity from the European grid “to compensate for the lack of production from our nuclear power stations”.
Pressed on whether it was buying more gas, the power company said it was “impossible to qualify the source of power generation”.
“Of course it’s a concern,” said Anne-Sophie Corbeau of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
“That energy has to be replaced with something else, which in many cases will be fossil fuels,” she told Sky News.
“Given the prices of electricity at the moment, it is very expensive. For example, in December we paid 1.4 billion euros for our electricity imports, when usually we pay tens millions.”
A “necessity, not a luxury”, says the government
The United Kingdom has just put nuclear power at the heart of its new energy security strategyto build eight new reactors to produce 25% of UK electricity by 2050.
“The idea that nuclear reactors are always on is wrong,” said Tom Burke, chairman of think tank E3G and a self-proclaimed “critic” of nuclear power policy. “We just don’t need [new nuclear plants]. They are very expensive.”
A UK Department of Energy spokesperson called nuclear power a ‘necessity, not a luxury’ and the ‘only proven, reliable form of low-carbon electricity generation on a large scale. “.
The UK government is also supporting wind, solar and North Sea oil and gas with the aim of reducing dependence on foreign gas and investing in ways to reduce energy demand.
Climate campaigners have criticized plans for the North Sea, the lack of onshore wind and the cost of nuclear.
‘High level of security’, says EDF
EDF told Sky News that the corrosion of five of the off-line reactors “does not call into question the high level of safety of our installations”.
“We are proposing to implement the safety first principle on the technical topic of stress corrosion, which we are currently encountering,” a spokesperson said.
The remaining 22 factories are shut down either for routine annual maintenance, which takes about five weeks, or for 10- or 40-year safety reviews, which take longer, and due to pandemic delays.
The setbacks have forced EDF to cut its planned generation for 2023 by around 40 terawatt hours (TWh), with reduced availability expected until next year. In February, global ratings agency S&P downgraded EDF’s rating, predicting a drop in profits of €5 billion to €7 billion, due to lower production as well as regulatory measures by the French government to limit price increases.
France built most of its reactors at a steady pace in the late 1970s and 80s – after the oil crisis of the 1970s – hoping to use them for 40 years. Today, EDF is looking to extend their lifespan by ensuring they are as safe as new reactors, but this takes time and money.
Nuclear generally generates around 70% of France’s electricity, Ms Corbeau explained. At 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon, the French national network RTE showed a figure of around 58%.
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