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France’s Latest Nuclear Halt Is a Reminder of Long-Lasting Nature of Problem

By Carolynn Look and Josefine Fokuhl, February 7, 2023

Despite France’s efforts to overcome a months-long maintenance crisis of its troubled nuclear fleet, another reactor has been taken offline for most of the rest of this year.

The nine-month planned halt of Electricite de France SA’s Chinon-1 nuclear reactor raises questions about whether the state-backed nuclear operator will be a millstone around Europe’s neck next winter, too. France’s nuclear plants form a backbone of Europe’s integrated power system, and an outbreak of safety-related incidents and repair delays over the past year could not have hit at a worse time.

As a result, French nuclear generation slumped to the lowest in more than three decades in 2022, just as the region struggled with throttled gas shipments from Russia and soaring fuel and power prices. The hope was that EDF would get its fleet in order by the time the next winter comes around, with Europe likely to source even fewer gas supplies from Russia this year, and Germany putting its last remaining nuclear plants to rest in April.

However, Chinon-1 will only return to the grid by Oct. 30, after being halted early on Tuesday, according to the French utility. The lengthy outage is because the reactor needs extra heavy checks and upgrades for EDF to get permission to extend its life from 40 to 50 years, it said.

Maintenance is Weighing on French Power Production

Total amount of power generated by nuclear power plants in France [graph on original]

The risk is that recent improvements in generation will be short-lived, especially if further disruptions pop up over the course of the year. Fresh maintenance this month is likely to curb output to historically low levels, with eight other reactors due to be taken off the system.

At the moment, the world’s biggest nuclear-plant operator has only 44 reactors available out of 56. Normally, those units could generate more than two-thirds of France’s electricity needs.

About a quarter of Europe’s electricity is produced by nuclear reactors in thirteen countries. But with France typically contributing more than half of the total, getting its reactors back up to speed will form a key part of how Europe guarantees its energy security for years to come.


February 10, 2023 - Posted by | France, politics

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