Warming rivers threaten France’s already strained power supply

Steam rises from a cooling tower at the Electricité de France (EDF) nuclear power plant in Dampierre-en-Burly, France October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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PARIS, July 15 (Reuters) – High water temperatures threaten to cut France’s already unusually low nuclear output, increasing pressure on operator EDF (EDF.PA) at a time when half of its reactors are out of power. service due to maintenance and corrosion issues.

The valley between the Rhône and the Garrone has reached sweltering temperatures in recent days which are expected to reach around 40 degrees Celsius on Friday and remain above seasonal levels until early next week.

This is a problem because water from rivers is often used to cool reactors before being returned to a higher temperature. The production of the reactor is limited during periods of high heat to prevent the hot water entering the rivers from damaging the fauna.

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EDF has announced production restrictions at the Tricastin plant on the Rhône from July 16, at the Blayais plant at the mouth of the Garrone from July 17, at the Saint Alban plant on the Rhône from July 17, and from the Bugey plant on the Rhône from July 19.

An extension of a recent production cut at the Golfech factory on the Garrone is also possible, said Refinitiv analyst Nathalie Gerl, adding data showing the restrictions continued for several weeks during a powerful similar heat wave in 2018.

On Friday, the French energy regulator, ASN, announced certain modifications to the power plants to guarantee a minimum level of electricity production.

EDF has already been forced to cut planned output several times this year due to a host of problems at its reactors – and expects a drop of 18.5 billion euros ($18.6 billion) of its base earnings in 2022 due to production losses.

The French government is due to announce on Tuesday the details of its plan to nationalize the indebted group, of which the state already owns 84%.

The maximum river temperature before the restrictions came into force at the Bugey plant is 26 degrees Celsius, while that of the Golfech, Tricastin and Saint-Alban plants is 28 ° C and that of Blayais of 30°C.

Current nuclear availability is at its lowest for at least four years due to corrosion problems and the lengthening of maintenance schedules for half of EDF’s 56 reactors.

This means that France is importing electricity at a time when it would normally export it and that EDF is buying electricity at high market prices, just as Europe is scrambling to find energy sources. alternatives to Russia.

Things could get worse in the winter unless EDF can restore full generation – although Refinitiv’s forecast at this stage points to a rebound to more normal generation levels in the months ahead.

The current rise in temperatures is also leading to an increase in demand for air conditioning, which could add to the pressure on the network.

“Supply will become particularly tight next week with demand around 6 GWh/h above normal on Monday and Tuesday,” Gerl said.

France already imports quite massively from countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Great Britain. But exports to Italy could fall as a result, she added.

The electricity mix in France is diversified, with around 32% of production coming from wind, solar and hydro, according to data from the network operator RTE, so that electricity production is more dependent on the intensity of the sun and wind speed than moderate temperatures.

However, rising river temperatures can have a ripple effect, as some coal-fired power plants also need cooling water from rivers and rely on rainfall or snowmelt to sustain river levels and allow unimpeded transportation by coal barge.

If the amount of river water that can be used is limited to protect wildlife, it can also hamper the vital water supply of coal-fired power plants and reduce production times and capacities.

The same goes for run-of-river hydroelectric plants.

Low water levels after recent dry weather continue to prevent freighters from sailing fully loaded on the Rhine in Germany, traders said.

EDF said on Friday the high temperatures were unlikely to affect the performance of its UK reactors. Read more

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Reporting by Forrest Crellin Additional reporting by Vera Eckert Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Mark Potter

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