The EU has been trying to end its reliance on Russian energy as quickly as possible. As Ed noted last month, the clamp down on Russian oil imports had a lot of loopholes. Cutting off the supply of Russian gas wasn’t really an option for Germany but earlier this week Russia’s Gazprom announced it would be cutting supplies by 60%, allegedly because of needed repairs.
While all of this is going on, France would seem to be in a good position because about 70% of its electricity is generated by nuclear power. In theory, France could continue to export power to other European countries to help make up for some of what was lost because of all the sanctions against Russia. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s working out. At the moment Europe needs it most, France’s nuclear industry has been hit with a string of problems.
Around half of France’s atomic fleet, the largest in Europe, has been taken offline as a storm of unexpected problems swirls around the nation’s state-backed nuclear power operator, Électricité de France, or EDF.
…the industry has tumbled into an unprecedented power crisis as EDF confronts troubles ranging from the mysterious emergence of stress corrosion inside nuclear plants to a hotter climate that is making it harder to cool the aging reactors.
The outages at EDF, Europe’s biggest electricity exporter, have sent France’s nuclear power output tumbling to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, pushing French electric bills to record highs just as the war in Ukraine is stoking broader inflation. Instead of pumping vast amounts of electricity to Britain, Italy and other European countries pivoting from Russian oil, France faces the unsettling prospect of initiating rolling blackouts this winter and having to import power.
The report goes on to say that most of the power plants operating now were built in the 1980s. EDF has put off plans to replace them for too long. Earlier this year, President Macron announce a big new proposal to create new power plants but as Reuters reported this week, that’s easier said than done. One new plant which was intended to pave the way toward the future has been badly behind schedule and way over budget.
Nestled at the bottom of a granite cliff in Normandy overlooking the English channel, the Flamanville 3 EPR project was designed to be EDF’s flagship plant – a safer, more powerful and long-lasting nuclear reactor that would replace its ageing fleet and boost French nuclear exports.
But it has become a byword for its failings and an embarrassment for the government, which owns 84% of EDF and is banking on nuclear to blunt the impact of a European energy crisis worsened by the prospect of an abrupt exit from Russian gas…
The Flamanville plant – which once fully operational will be producing enough power to keep a city like Paris going for a year – was originally expected to cost 3.3 billion euros and start operations in 2012.
It is now due to start loading fuel – one of the final stages before the start up of a plant – in the second quarter of 2023, and at the latest count the estimated cost had risen to 12.7 billion euros.
And that’s not the only new plant built by EDF which is behind schedule:
An EDF-made pressurized water reactor at Hinkley Point, in southwest England, won’t start operating until 2027 — four years behind schedule and too late to help Britain’s swift turn from Russian oil and gas. Finland’s newest EDF nuclear power plant, which started operating last month, was supposed to be completed in 2009.
The situation is bad enough that France is talking about fully nationalizing EDF. That might solve the funding problems but it won’t solve the power problems anytime soon. And unfortunately that means Russia has a bit more leverage over Europe than it might have if this hadn’t happened.