The supply bottlenecks in Russian gas have drawn everyone’s attention for months. But France’s plight is at least as dramatic, if not worse, with several ailing nuclear reactors. If winter temperatures drop, Paris could be the first European city to suffer a power outage, rather than Berlin, Bloomberg predicts.
France’s nuclear reactors currently account for the lowest percentage of the country’s electricity production in 30 years as nuclear power is becoming scarce. Typically, its share of nuclear power is around 70 percent of France’s energy mix. On Friday afternoon, the French nuclear power plants supplied just 59 percent of the electricity required. This is without exaggeration a fiasco for the power supply.
France’s state-owned utility Electricite de France SA is operating just 26 of its 57 reactors, with more than half the reactor chain undergoing emergency maintenance after cracks in the pipelines were discovered. All nuclear power plants in France are suffering from obsolescence and record temperatures, for which many had to be shut down. The cooling water that the nuclear power plants derive must not exceed a certain temperature.
During an inspection at the Gravelines nuclear power plant, engineers discovered massive corrosion damage. The repairs will take half a year. In the corona pandemic, on the other hand, many reactors were not maintained. This is now being made up for, but there are more and more failures.
The slump in nuclear power availability is forcing France to rely more than ever on gas, wind and hydroelectric power plants, as well as on imports. This drives up electricity costs on the wholesale market for all of Europe. The French prices here still surpass the German ones.
The price per megawatt hour in France is currently ten times higher than it was on average between 2010 and 2020. Dealers have to pay more than 500 euros for it, in Germany it is currently between 350 and 370 euros. French end-users are protected for now thanks to a price cap, but businesses are fully affected.
France’s electricity demand is also lower in summer. This threatens to become an insurmountable problem on a cold winter evening when French households can increase their consumption from the current 45 gigawatts per hour to more than 80 or 90 gigawatts. In winter, electricity demand in France is also higher than in Germany, although the economy is smaller. Households are more dependent on electricity for heating and hot water.
While state-owned utility Electricite de France SA has promised that at least some of its reactors will come back online in time for the colder months, “the company has a nasty habit of over-promising and under-delivering,” Bloomberg pointedly comments .