French nuclear fleet “problem child” of Europe’s electricity system – researcher
France’s huge nuclear power plant fleet currently only delivers a fraction of its energy production potential, making the country dependent on electricity imports and driving up prices across Europe, energy researcher Bruno Burger of Fraunhofer ISE has told newspaper Die Zeit. “The problem child in Europe’s power supply is definitely France,” Burger said, noting that since 2015 France has been importing much more electricity from Germany than it sends back across the border. Continuous electricity exports from Germany will become a problem for power customers there and elsewhere in Europe in the long-term, as the low French output means scarcity on EU power markets and higher prices for everyone. Many of France’s 56 nuclear reactors are currently throttled down or taken offline due to a combination of scheduled maintenance, erosion damage and cooling water shortages due to recurring heatwaves and droughts. And while Germany is heating most of its households using natural gas, and therefore looking anxiously at a possible gas shortage this winter, French households mostly use electricity for heating, making a nuclear power shortfall a risk for the coming winter’s heat supply, Burger said. “Due to the many problems in its nuclear fleet, France depends on other countries more than ever – and can no longer supply other countries, like it did with Italy in the past,” he explained. French power provider EDF told the paper that it cannot say when the country’s nuclear fleet will have overcome its ageing problems, saying “the programme for repair and maintenance will go on.” The German-French Office for the Energy Transition (DFBEW) estimated that France’s “power gap” might persist for another 10 to 15 years, meaning that growing renewable power capacity will ultimately also benefit French customers.
Germany and France’s respective positions on nuclear energy differ greatly, with the former intending to close its three last plants at the end of the year unless the current energy supply crisis leads to extending their use for a limited period of time. France and other EU members have repeatedly urged Germany to rethink its phase-out timing given Russia’s weaponising of energy trading as part of its war effort in Ukraine, while Germany points at the technical limitations of nuclear power, reliance on fuel rod imports partly coming from Russia, security concerns and the still unresolved question of nuclear waste storage and treatment.