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French state-owned energy giant EDF has slammed the breaks on seven nuclear reactors over the last few weeks as it scrambles to conserve power amid blackout fears. Data revealed on Thursday that the reactors with a total capacity of 6.3 gigawatts have been switched off to save fuel for the colder weather that is approaching, despite the nation struggling with its power output in recent months
Normally, France’s nuclear fleet generates 70 percent of the country’s electricity. But over the last few months, corrosion issues identified in many of France’s ageing reactors forced the nation to take a record number offline, causing its power output to plummet.
While France’s grid operator has said that the risk of an electricity shortfall in January has been slashed as it managed to bring a number of nuclear reactors back online, the latest move could indicate that the situation is not as stable as it would like.
Four French units – Tricastin 1 (915 MV), Cruas ((915 MV), St Laurent (915 MV) and Dampierre 4 (890 MV) were switched off on Thursday and will make a comeback on Sunday as the country scrambles to shore up enough supplies for winter.
Tricsatin 4 (915 MV) stopped on Friday and will return to service on Wednesday, while Chinon 2 (905 MV) and Bugey (880 MV) have been offline since last Friday and Saturday respectively. They will get switched back on by Monday.
This is despite Thomas Veyrenc, executive director in charge of strategy at French operator RTE, saying earlier this month: “From the point of view of security of supply, France is heading into the heart of winter in a more favorable situation than at the start of autumn, and better prepared to face situations of tensions.”
However, Paris has also confirmed that maintenance halts at two of Electricite de France SA’s reactors will last for an extra four months, and that it may have to carry out lengthy repairs at seven other reactors next year.
While EDF has returned a number of units to service over the last few weeks, experts have previously told Express.co.uk that its ageing plants will run much lower than their optimal capacity this winter.
For instance, EDF’s Penly-2 unit got been delayed from January 29 to June 11, Meanwhile, the Golfech-1 generator, which was supposed to return to service on February 18, will not return until June 11.
France is also keeping the Cattenom-3 reactor offline for an extra month to March 26, and the Civaux-2 will not come back online until February 19.
Dr Paul Dorfman, a nuclear expert from the University of Sussex and an anti-nuclear campaigner, said: “France may have to roll out organised blackouts too…the nuclear fleet is very old and cracking up…France is now even importing power from Germany.”
French analysts have also previously warned that the first cold winter days are putting the resilience of its power network to the test, warning that there could be power cuts in the coming months.
This also comes after it was revealed that France has become the world’s biggest importer of Russian natural gas. Between January and October, the country imported 4.45 million tonnes of Russian liquified natural gas, an increase of 52 percent in one year.
This is despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine and EU efforts to slash dependence on Moscow’s energy supplies. However, as France’s nuclear issues persist, the country may need anything it can get its hands on.
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But there are fears that the Kremlin could cut off even more supplies to Europe in retaliation to Western sanctions, with Putin repeatedly warning that he could “freeze” the continent this winter.
While saving nuclear fuel in preparation for a possible cut could provide EDF with a lifeline as temperatures plummet, experts have also warned that blackouts in the UK would become more likely if France fails to stave off its own outages.
That is because France and Britain exchange energy via interconnectors, with our partners across the Channel usually being the net exporter. Dr Dorfman previously told Express.co.uk that there will be “no question” France will hold back on their usual levels of energy exports to Britain as it scrambles to keep the lights on.
It comes after National Grid warned that if the UK fails to shore up enough energy imports this winter, it may have to roll out organised blackouts in the coldest winter months at peak times to balance the grid.
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