French electricity generation from nuclear power plants reached a new low in 2022. The 18 nuclear power plants with 56 units and an installed capacity of 61.83 GW generated an average of 25 GW.
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.
How much of this is due to the number of reactors that had to be shutdown due to the drought?
They tell us that France has been a leader in nuclear power in Europe with many nuclear power plants. But they are aging and now have some down for maintenance.
What is the status of their maintenance? Did they underinvest? Are they catching up? Is this problem temporary? Or longer term?
Are they building new nuclear plants?
The French have not done adequate inspections for years. In the last two years they found major corrosion problems in the reactor systems of about half of their reactors. It takes a long time to repair corroded radioactive piping and components. That is why I call 40+ year old nuclear reactors rust buckets. They have been in the fixing stage for over a year. They do not say how much longer these reactors will be shutdown. Once corrosion gets established in piping and components it is difficult to stop and replacing nuclear grade piping and components is very costly.
They do not say how much was due to drought. I estimate the drought caused 10% of the shutdown in the summer months. Now in late fall they are still shutdown. 90% of their shutdowns are for corrosion inspections, corrosion repairs, regular refueling and maintenance that they could not defer.
These shutdowns will hurt French and European electricity supplies in the coming winter.