As most of Europe struggles to finish the continent’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, one nation may appear to have good purpose to really feel much less anxious than most: nuclear-friendly France.
The nation’s longstanding reliance on nuclear energy means Paris has confronted few of the tough choices made by international locations resembling Germany, which is uncovered to the financial blowback of an abrupt exit from Russian fuel.
But a sequence of upkeep points together with corrosion at a few of France’s ageing reactors, troubles at state-controlled vitality group EDF and a years-long absence of great new nuclear funding are sapping provide and casting doubts on whether or not nuclear will insulate France from the troubles of its neighbours. Half of France’s 56 reactors are offline — a file — with 12 of these shut down due to corrosion inspections.
“There’s a whole series of problems that have led to an absolutely unprecedented level of difficulties and shutdowns in France’s nuclear industry,” mentioned Yves Marignac, a nuclear vitality specialist at think-tank négaWatt.
The corrosion points capped a 10-year decline within the efficiency of the nuclear fleet, he added.
The outages couldn’t have come at a worse time. Surging world oil and fuel demand as Covid-19 lockdowns lifted, adopted by provide chain disruptions and unfavourable climate that depleted renewable vitality manufacturing mixed final yr to spark an vitality disaster in Europe. The Ukraine warfare has added to the strain.
The corrosion, which prompted cracks within the pipes of a back-up water injection system, might take years to repair, France’s nuclear watchdog mentioned final week.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, French president Emmanuel Macron promised in February to restart France’s “nuclear adventure”, unveiling a €52bn plan to construct new reactors in a technique partly geared toward slicing the nation’s carbon emissions whereas offering vitality safety.
France derived 69 per cent of its electrical energy output from atomic energy final yr. The outages have lower that to 59 per cent — hitting state-controlled vitality group EDF’s funds.
The debt-laden group has been compelled to purchase energy on wholesale markets simply because the Ukraine warfare sends costs hovering, and has mentioned it expects an €18.5bn hit to its core income this yr because of this, on prime of one other €10.2bn from vitality worth cap measures imposed by the federal government.
Repeated delays and price overruns on two flagship next-generation European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) initiatives in France and Britain have additionally given EDF a repute for being unable to make novel nuclear applied sciences on time and on finances.
“There’s a fundamental problem around EDF, shown by the recurring issues on too many different topics and which have been going on for too long,” mentioned Denis Florin of vitality consultancy Lavoisier. “That has made EDF a target for critics who question what [taxpayers and investors] would pour billions into.”
However, France has little wriggle-room because it plans for a much less carbon intensive future. Like EU neighbours it goals to get rid of greenhouse fuel emissions by 2050. But regardless of funding, it lags behind European neighbours in constructing photo voltaic and wind energy as a result of paperwork and its lengthy reliance on nuclear vitality.
The vitality disaster has added to the urgency. Macron had initially appeared agnostic on nuclear, overseeing the shutdown of 1 plant in 2018 because it reached the tip of its life. But now he has doubled down on atomic energy.
When saying the six deliberate new EPRs, which might change current ageing reactors, in February, the president mentioned one other eight might observe. He additionally unveiled a plan to increase the lifespan of all nuclear vegetation previous the usual 40 years the place attainable, successfully abandoning his earlier objective of slicing France’s reliance on nuclear vitality to 50 per cent by 2035.
“The time for our nuclear renaissance is here,” he mentioned in a speech at a nuclear reactor turbine manufacturing facility in japanese France.
Europe can also be reliant on French output. France was the area’s greatest internet exporter of energy final yr, supplying neighbours resembling Italy and Germany — regardless of the latter shutting down its personal nuclear business over environmental considerations.
“When you see plans for gas and coal plant closures, we’re going to need French nuclear power even more in the European system by 2030,” mentioned Valérie Faudon, the manager director of Sfen, a science-based group that promotes the nuclear business.
Macron now faces a sequence of hurdles to get building of the brand new vegetation going by the tip of his second time period in 2027 and on course for a 2035 start-up.
His first problem will likely be securing one other majority in legislative elections in June. Left-leaning candidates, together with some anti-nuclear proponents, have shaped an alliance to maximise their possibilities of denying him one, though polls present that’s unlikely.
France will even need to wrangle over a brand new EU regulatory framework for the sector, with discussions that might start this yr, and is braced for a European Parliament vote in July over whether or not to label nuclear vitality as inexperienced, which might unlock funding.
EDF has mentioned it is able to construct the brand new reactors. But the business is dealing with shortages of expert employees, together with welders and engineers, after many left the sector due to a dearth of initiatives in recent times.
“You’d see young people on job forums saying ‘why not work in the nuclear industry’ and others would reply saying, ‘don’t, you’ll lose your job’,” Faudon mentioned. “At least now . . . there is good news with the new reactor announcements.”