A nuclear expert has told Express.co.uk that the likelihood the UK will experience blackouts this winter has grown after France announced delays to the repairs of its aging nuclear reactors. Paris has 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 it may appear as though this is only an issue for our European partners across the Channel, Dr Paul Dorfman, a nuclear expert from Sussex University, has warned that this could have bleak consequences for Britain.
This is because the UK normally relies on receiving some nuclear power exports from France, which are sent to British shores via interconnectors. But over the last few months, France’s nuclear power output has plummeted as the nation makes repairs to its nuclear reactors which are aging and are suffering from corrosion issues.
While EDF has returned a number of units to service over the last few weeks, Bloomberg reports that its aging plants will run much lower than their optimal capacity this winter.
Dr Dorfman said this means there will be “no question” that France will have to hold back on their usual levels of energy exports to Britain. This could be a cause for concern as National Grid had already warned that if the UK fails to shore up enough energy imports this winter, it may have to roll out organized blackouts in the coldest winter months at peak times to balance the grid and avoid a total shutdown.
He told Express.co.uk: “The ongoing safety corrosion issues have a significant impact on France and its ability to export power. There is no question that France will choose to light up Paris, in extremeness, than to deliver power elsewhere – like to the UK for example.
“We are at the beginning of winter. We don’t know where the Russian invasion of Ukraine will go. France’s housing stock is badly insulated and the French are only just coming to grips with the issue of energy. They don’t really understand where they are at with electricity and power.”
When asked whether these issues could make National Grid’s emergency plan, which the network operator has argued is an “unlikely worst-case scenario”, Dr Dorfman said that it would.
He added: “France may have to roll out organized blackouts too…the nuclear fleet is very old and cracking up…France is now even importing power from Germany.”
This marks a huge change from the usual situation. Under normal circumstances, France is a net exporter of energy. But France has been forced to import power to swerve its own blackouts amid the nuclear issues.
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According to Bloomberg, its reactors are now running at just over two-thirds of typical capacity, meaning more of its electricity will have to come from gas. This means that the storage facilities in Europe have been scrambling to fill amd fears that Russia will cut off more supplies from the continent will be depleted of gas to satisfy France’s energy needs.
Before the nuclear issues were identified, France’s nuclear power stations accounted for 70 percent of France’s electricity generation. But following the shutdowns of several plants due to stress corrosion cracks on pipes in the reactors’ cooling systems, a total of 16 of its 56 reactors have been taken offline for repairs.
It appears power generation issues n France will persist for longer than first thought since the restart of EDF’s Penly-2 unit got been delayed from January 29 to June 11. Meanwhile, its Golfech-1 generator, which was meant to return to service on February 18, will now have to wait until June 11.
The Cattenom-3 reactor is also being kept offline for an extra month to March 26, and has the Civaux-2 until February 19. Last week, the stress these shutdowns are having on the French energy system was laid bare when Pairs asked if it could slash its nuclear exports to the UK in half for one day, which was granted permission by Britain.
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It came as National Grid ESO (the UK network’s operator) put two coal units at the Drax power unit on standby as a safety precaution to ensure that the UK was not plunged into darkness as parts of the country faced sub-zero temperatures, triggering a surge in energy demand.
Phil Hewitt, a director at energy market analysis firm EnAppSys, said yesterday: “The French market was particularly under stress today. It was always going to be in trouble because of the reduced nuclear reactor fleet, the temperature is low and there has been a big demand spike combined with low wind.”
Simon Cran-McGreehin, head of analysis at the Energy, Climate and Intelligence Unit, said that all this will mean that France may have to request more imports from Britain, despite usually supplying more power to the UK.
He said: “There’s less nuclear available on the continent, and so they’ll have less for us to import and they’ll be looking for more UK exports.”