France sees its nuclear energy production drop at the worst possible time

France has long been one of the world’s greatest champions of nuclear energy. France leads the European Union in nuclear production, with the most productive reactors in the bloc, and depends on nuclear power for a larger share of its energy mix than any other country in the world. It makes sense that France is leading the charge for the development of nuclear power, as it has long been the global poster child for safe and reliable nuclear power – until now.

A recent wave of unexpected problems at Electricité de France (EDF), the national nuclear power operator representing the largest nuclear fleet in Europe, has caused French nuclear power production to fall to an all-time low. . lowest levels in 30 years. About half of EDF’s massive nuclear fleet has been taken offline, dealing a blow to EU energy independence and security amid a global energy crisis.

France has become increasingly dependent on nuclear power in recent years. French President Emmanuel Macron gave nuclear power an even bigger boost during his tenure. Indeed, in February, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he announced a 52 billion euro plan to revitalize the “nuclear adventure.” He also fought for the inclusion of the emission-free energy source as “green investmentin the nomenclature of the European Union as the continent moves towards establishing its green energy budget for the years to come.

The European Union had hoped that France’s considerable nuclear capability would be key to allowing the bloc to move away from Russian energy as the West tries to consolidate its energy independence and increase sanctions against the Kremlin in response to the Russian war in Ukraine. As recently as March of this year, the Council on Foreign Relations has postulated that nuclear power could be the answer to ending the continent’s crippling dependence on Russian energy. But now it may be the very thing that makes such a divorce impossible.

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Until now, France was relatively sheltered from the energy crisis that was crushing its neighbors. But now the nuclear-dependent nation suddenly finds itself in the same boat as other power-strapped European nations thanks to a “series of maintenance issues, including corrosion of some of France’s aging reactors, problems at state-controlled energy group EDF and a year-long absence of significant new nuclear investment,” according to reports from the Financial Times. Corrosion problems, which are currently at the root of 12 of France’s 56 out-of-service reactors, could take years to resolve. Meanwhile, inflation is skyrocketing and French electricity bills have reached record highs.

“Instead of pumping large amounts of electricity to Britain, Italy and other European countries relying on Russian oil,” writes the New York Times, “France faces the prospect disturbing to trigger blackouts this winter and have to import electricity”. The incredibly bad timing of the EDF crisis is compounded by Putin’s recent cut in natural gas exports to the EU, which has pushed countries like Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands has a “bitter and reluctant return to coal.”

The simultaneous collapse of French nuclear power generation capacity and Putin’s retaliatory cutback on energy exports to Europe spells disaster and tragedy for the continent’s decarbonization efforts — and the world. And even if France can get its nuclear fleet back up and running fairly quickly (a highly unlikely feat), the EU is unlikely to be able to pursue its planned coal phase-out, as the International Energy Agency says. warns that Russia may soon completely cut off its flow of natural gas to Europe. While other countries including Romania will increase their own nuclear power capacity in the months and years to come, it looks like we are on course for a banner year for coal and a devastating setback for global emissions targets.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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