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France imports UK electricity as summer heatwave puts a third of its nukes out of action

By Joe Romm

"France imports UK electricity as summer heatwave puts a third of its nukes out of action"


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http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_FbG9rWPXqnc/SMhO3dYWGZI/AAAAAAAAHx0/VXslzOsqhzA/s320/folder.jpgTo avoid maxxing out on my July quota of irony in the first week of the month, I will simply report this as a straight news story.  The UK Times reports:

With temperatures across much of France surging above 30C this week, EDF’s reactors are generating the lowest level of electricity in six years, forcing the state-owned utility to turn to Britain for additional capacity.

Fourteen of France’s 19 nuclear power stations are located inland and use river water rather than seawater for cooling. When water temperatures rise, EDF is forced to shut down the reactors to prevent their casings from exceeding 50C.

Now everybody who is anybody knows that no single weather event can be attributed to human-caused global warming.   And those same people know that nuclear power is the one and only possible solution to human-caused global warming.  So, to all those non-cognoscenti inclined to use this one-time, freak occurrence to diss nukes, let me say as loudly as I can, “NOTHING TO SEE HERE!  MOVE ON!”

Also, the image above is presented solely as an example of the kind of inappropriate humor one should eschew in these troubled times.  Any resemblance between the nuclear power plant employee depicted above and advocates of nuclear power living or mortified is purely coincidental.

The story explains:

EDF warned last month that France might need to import up to 8,000MW of electricity from other countries by mid-July “” enough to power Paris “” because of the combined impact of hot weather, a ten-week strike by power workers and ongoing repairs.

EDF must also observe strict rules governing the heat of the water it discharges into waterways so that wildlife is not harmed. The maximum permitted temperature is 24C. Lower electricity output from riverside reactors during hot weather usually coincides with surging demand as French consumers turn up their air conditioners.

One power industry insider said yesterday that about 20GW (gigawatts) of France’s total nuclear generating capacity of 63GW was out of service.

Much of the shortfall this summer is likely to be met by Britain, which, since 1986, has been linked to the French power grid by a 45km sub-sea power cable that runs from Sellindge in Kent to Les Mandarins.

A statement from EDF played down the heat problems, saying that the French system continued to meet customer demands “” but similar heatwaves have caused serious problems in France in the past.

In 2003, the situation grew so severe that the French nuclear safety regulator granted special exemptions to three plants, allowing them temporarily to discharge water into rivers at temperatures as high as 30C. France has five plants located by the sea and EDF tries to avoid carrying out any repairs to them during the summer because they do not suffer from cooling problems.

Okay, so maybe this wasn’t a one-time event.  But it’s not as if the planet is entering a prolonged period of ever hotter and hotter conditions, leading to longer and stronger heat waves where the 2003 heat wave will be an every other year occurrence by the 2040s, and ultimately leading to average temperatures rising 5°C or more by century’s end, is it?

And this is certainly no reason for people to all of a sudden start questioning nuclear power as a primary solution to global warming — at least not if you’ve already decided to swallow the exorbitant cost, lengthy delays, safety, terrorism, proliferation, and waste problems.

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15 Responses to France imports UK electricity as summer heatwave puts a third of its nukes out of action

  1. NFJM says:

    Well let me just add some very important points regarding the French nuclear.

    * generating nuclear power corresponding to 70% of your power does not mean that you answer 70% of your need… or just on paper for the quantity, not the quality. France has a substantial need for mid-load and peak-load which nuclear does not provide, even with the best rod-management.
    => This 70% is only possible through the baseload export to Germany and Switzerland at nightime and supply at daytime from Swiss hydro and German coal power plant.
    => Also on average, the load equivalent of one to two nuclear power plant was used in “throttling” as a mean of answering the demand.

    * As a nuclear power, no clear accounting of the real cost of nuclear power is available in France. The uranium enrichment budget is not transparent.

    * One nuclear plant in France is operating while the concrete floor layer is of only 0.5m . It is well known that for safety matters in the case of a major accident, at least 3m of concrete are required.

    * Nuclear in France lacks of transparency. Several times, heavy metals resulting from the nuclear reaction have been found in rivers in significant quantities. In the aftermath of the Chernobyl event, French government claimed that it will “stop the radioactive cloud” (?!?!) instead of communicating about the dangers of the contamination.

  2. I’m glad that you kept the irony out. :-)

  3. Stefan Min says:

    Exactly, during the last (not so cold) cold wave in Jan-Feb 2009, France also had trouble supplying the inefficient electric resistance heaters for badly insulated homes; nuclear power with its illusion of providing cheap electricity tends to preclude efficiency efforts.

  4. Bill Woods says:

    What a pity there’s no way to cool a thermal power plant without using river water….


    [JR: There is. Too bad virtually no nukes use this. Now we just have to make sure this becomes standard on all new power plants that need cooling.]

  5. Rick Covert says:


    This article is ultimate argument against nuclear power addressing global warming. I believe you’ve hit a Homer. :)

  6. Brad Venner says:


    It seems like the indirect dry cooling systems that you have advocated for using in “solar baseload” could also solve France’s nuclear cooling problem? If so, then this isn’t a good argument against nuclear per se, although you still have all your other ones, since it would add to costs.

    [JR: There is no doubt that nuclear can use dry cooling. I believe a Phoenix plant already does. I that all new power plants should be required to use dry cooling -- which of course would further undercut the economics of nuclear.]

  7. paulm says:

    Bill Woods this will also become more inefficient when the temp goes up!

    Amazing with all the money that they probably put in to risk assessment they didn’t address this problem. Oh, wait, I think everyone was ignoring it back then for some unfathomable reason. In fact risk assessors have been ignoring global warming up until like last year. Just amazing. They should be sued by the relevant parties.

    I guess they didn’t see the sea level rise issue too. So all those nukes on the coast will have to be decommissioned and moved over the next 60yrs. Mmmm, I wonder how that is going to happen and how much it would cost. What will the consequences of an flooded plant on the coast be? The mind boggles.

    Nuclear is a dead end.

    These are the ‘little’ problems that are going to (have) started to pop up due to GW. Its only going to cascade now.

  8. Bob Wright says:

    So Europe is having the heat waves this year. It has been the most pleasant (but rainy) summer (so far) in PA in many years.

    I tried to google what sort of cooling towers Westinghouse is using for its planned reactors in Florida, the Carolinas (and Viet Nam), and coudn’t find anythiing specific. There are a number of new configurations. Wet, dry, natural draft, fans, hybrids…and add-ons. Sounds like the French need to invest a few Euros on upgrades. Did they really just pull the plug going to Italy during the heat wave of 2003?

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Bob Wright — That was a grid failure problem. Not intentional.

  10. belsha says:

    What I find amusing is that you qualify the meager 30°C we had here in Paris as a “heatwave”. Nobody calls this a heat wave here, and people generally are happy they can roll up their sleaves and have a drink outside at night after two very cold summers and a gruelling winter. Last time people here talked about a heat wave, in 2003, temperatures were more like 38°C with peaks above 40°. So the “rapidly accelerating warming” seems to mean here that cooler and cooler temperatures are considered abnormally hot…

    Meanwhile, rain is hitting France, and weather reports predict maximal temperatures of 20° C and minimals of 11°C, and this in the middle of July! Looks like I have to put the heating back on in my appartment, and at the very least take out my wool sweaters and coats!

  11. Bob Wright says:

    Enjoy your summer Belsha. Obvioulsy you did have a modest early season heat wave, and temperatures well above 30 were reported in many places. Also, the reactor power would not have been curtailed. 30 C is no big deal in the US either, unless the humidity is high.

  12. Lou Grinzo says:

    As the saying goes, “It’s not the things you don’t know that get you into trouble, it’s the things you know that ain’t so.”

    In this case, it’s the assumption that water supply that’s here now, when you’re building a thermoelectric generating plant (and nukes, as currently built, are the thirstiest), will be here for the life of the plant. And that means not just quantity and purity, but temperature, as well. (The quantity argument applies to hydro, also, of course.)

    This is the often overlooked risk of the energy/water nexus I keep talking about: Yes, thermoelectric plants have a high water draw and a much smaller water consumption, but every time you build one you’re creating an enormous, decades-long exposure and dependency on your ability to meet that water draw, a bet on your powers of prediction, with the cost of failure being potentially very high.

    Because of the size of these projects and the amount of money involved, I think the only way we’ll learn this lesson is through the pain of failure–e.g. a weeks-long regional blackout in the SE US. Until then, we’ll keep muddling along, ignoring events like the one in this post, and telling ourselves how smart we are.

  13. jcwinnie says:

    @Levangie: That didn’t count towards his Irony Quota, he was being sardonic.