Unlike many of its European neighbors, France appears to be quite unperturbed by the need to significantly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, particularly those imported from Russia. Unlike countries like Germany which are scrambling to deal with the economic consequences of boycotting Russian oil and gas imports, France has opted to invest in nuclear power as its way of weaning itself from fossil fuels and it has been successful for quite some time now.
However, France now faces its own power crisis. As of press time, over half of the country’s 56 nuclear reactors have gone offline – and twelve of those offline reactors were shut down because inspectors noted a great deal of corrosion in their machinery.
According to nuclear energy specialist Yves Marignac of the consultancy NégaWatt, France’s nuclear power sector is currently facing an unprecedented level of pressing issues that have piled up over the past ten years. This adverse development has come at a time when a global fuel crisis has been compounded by the pressing need for the global economy to bounce back from the economic impact of Covid-19. as well as issues regarding international supply chains and the way climate change is affecting the world’s weather.
Technical experts note that it may take years to repair the damage corrosion has wrought on affected reactors. The most recent incident involved a back-up water injection system whose pipes were cracked by corrosive build-up just a week ago. In which case, the French government finds itself hard-pressed to find a different way of generating renewable energy, particularly in light of the fact that 69% of the country’s electricity generated in the previous year was from atomic / nuclear power.
Rethinking a National Strategy
As a result of the nuclear plant shutdowns, atomic power now accounts for just 59% of the country’s energy supply. This has adversely affected the finances of French power company EDF. In fact, EDF was forced to purchase energy through wholesale markets just as Russia made its first incursions into Ukraine.
In February of this year, French President Emmanuel Macron presented a new strategy airmed towards reducing the country’s overall carbon footprint. One of the plans under the strategy involves a US$55.74 billion (€52 billion) budget allocated towards the construction of new nuclear reactors. However, numerous delays and cost overruns on an upcoming European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) project in the country have put a damper on the government’s plans.
Denis Florin of Lavoisier, an energy consultancy, opines that France has so little room to plan for a carbon-neutral future. While it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, France remains far behind neighboring countries in terms of infrastructure development for other renewable power sources like solar panel facilities and wind farms.