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As Europe Quits Russian Gas, Half of France’s Nuclear Plants Are Off-Line

France’s state-backed nuclear operator is scrambling to overcome a monthslong crisis to get as many reactors as possible restarted before winter sets in.

New York Times, By Liz Alderman. Reporting from Paris, Nov. 16, 2022

An army of engineers has fanned out through nuclear power plants across France in recent months, inspecting reactors for signs of wear and tear. Hundreds of expert welders have been recruited to repair problems found in cooling circuits. Stress tests are being conducted to check for safety problems.

As Europe braces for a winter without Russian gas, France is moving fast to repair a series of problems plaguing its atomic fleet. A record 26 of its 56 reactors are off-line for maintenance or repairs after the worrisome discovery of cracks and corrosion in some pipes used to cool reactor cores.

The crisis is upending the role that France has long played as Europe’s biggest producer of nuclear energy, raising questions about how much its nuclear power arsenal will be able to help bridge the continent’s looming crunch……………………………………………

France’s nuclear power crunch has become so acute that Mr. Macron is preparing to have the government take over the remaining 16 percent of EDF that it doesn’t already own, at a cost of nearly 10 billion euros ($10.3 billion).

The company, which is nearly 45 billion in debt, has tumbled further into financial difficulty and announced that its 2022 profit would drop by 29 billion because of the problems with its reactors, as well as a government effort to force EDF to provide artificially cheap electricity for households and businesses.

Even as EDF is rushing to comply with the demand for accelerated repairs, the company last week cut its 2022 nuclear power production forecast. The announcement caused the cost of French and European electricity to spike.

Herculean efforts to repair corrosion in pipes that cool the cores of four reactors were taking longer than expected, the company said. Those reactors now will not restart until January or February.

A strike late last month by French nuclear plant workers demanding higher wages to keep up with inflation was another blow. EDF said it was already behind in performing required maintenance on several aging reactors because of coronavirus lockdowns when the labor action put it further behind.

The company’s recent troubles began late last year, as it started moving through that backlog. The inspections unearthed alarming safety issues — especially corrosion and micro-cracks in systems that cool a reactor’s radioactive core — at an older-generation nuclear reactor in southwest France called Civaux 1. As EDF scoured its nuclear facilities, it found that 16 reactors, most of them newer-generation models, faced similar risks and closed them down.

EDF made to reactors designed by Westinghouse Electric that EDF had used in its older-generation plants. Bernard Doroszczuk, the head of France’s Nuclear Safety Authority, testified to French lawmakers this summer that the modifications, used for later-generation reactors, appeared to have caused abnormal corrosion and stress on critical cooling pipes.

The crisis has sent French nuclear power production to a 30-year low, generating less than half of the 61 gigawatts that the reactors can produce. (EDF also generates electricity with gas, coal and renewable technologies.) Even when more reactors are restarted in the coming months, French nuclear output will be around 45 gigawatts — lower than usual this winter, compounding the impact of Russia’s gas cutoff.

The situation “increases the risk of supply shortages for the coming winter, with availability standing at record-low levels for this time of the year,” Fabian Ronningen, a senior analyst at Rystad Energy, an independent consultancy, said in a note to clients.

The energy shortfall has turned France, once the continent’s biggest exporter of energy, into a net importer this year. A quarter of Europe’s electricity comes from nuclear power plants in about a dozen countries, with France producing more than half the total………………………………..

But even critical repairs must be monitored. EDF said a radioactive leak occurred this month during a hydraulic test on the main cooling circuit of the Civaux 1 nuclear power plant. EDF had spent months laboring to repair the corroded cooling pipes, using new technologies including ultrasound and welding robots that don’t have radiation exposure limits.

EDF said that there was no safety risk from that leak, and that no radioactivity was detected outside of it. But the episode is likely to delay the plant’s reopening beyond a planned Jan. 8 date, adding to the nuclear park’s woes.




November 16, 2022 - Posted by | ENERGY, France

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