It’s beginning to look like a bleak winter and France is rushing to ensure that its people aren’t left out in the cold despite the global power crisis. However, this is proving to be a Herculean task as more than half of the nation’s nuclear power plants are currently offline.
Électricité de France (EDF), the country’s state-run nuclear power operator, recently announced that 26 of the country’s 56 reactors are down for maintenance after corrosion was seen in the pipes used for cooling reactor cores. Likewise, stress tests show a number of critical structural issues that could compromise both performance and plant safety.
At present, EDF is working on an accelerated schedule to get most of these downed plants back up and running by January. Company representatives hastened to assure the public that no safety risks were foreseen and that government regulators are monitoring the progress of the repairs. However, an edict from French President Emmanuel Macron demands that EDF gets these plants working before the brunt of winter sets in.
Company representatives say it has been forced to delay necessary maintenance measures on a number of its reactors due to lockdowns meant to curb the spread of the pandemic. However, by the time it began to deal with its service backlog late last year, inspectors detected numerous safety issues, including corrosion and cracking in the cooling systems of older-generation nuclear reactors, as well as sixteen newer models.
This ongoing situation has driven nuclear power production in France down to its lowest in three decades, with plants generating less than 50% of full capacity. Experts say that, even if EDF gets more reactors up and running, the country’s nuclear output may only be a measly 45 gigawatts.
Issues Beyond Power Generation
But these delays in maintenance are but the tip of the iceberg for EDF. The French government is poised to take over the remaining 16% of the company’s private holdings in order to mitigate operational and administrative issues.
EDF is, at present, nearly €45 billion in debt. The company also announced that it has cut its nuclear power production forecast for the rest of the year due to the number of damaged reactors – an announcement that sent power rates in France and other parts of Europe soaring. Company workers also held a strike last month, calling for higher wages in light of the skyrocketing cost of living, an additional expense that EDF is ill-equipped at the moment to handle.