French President Emmanuel Macron is said to be in a “panic” as the issues with France’s ageing nuclear reactors have laid bare the flaws in the country’s energy plans, an expert has told Express.co.uk. Sixteen out France’s 56 nuclear reactors are currently offline due to corrosion and maintenance issues, sending its normal power output levels plummeting in recent months. Prior to these problems, France’s nuclear fleet generated 70 percent of the country’s electricity.
According to Dr Paul Dorfman, a nuclear expert from the University of Sussex, France’s “chickens are coming home to roost” as the decision to rely so heavily on nuclear is appearing to backfire, with further delays to repairs also announced this week.
He said: “France was nuclear power excellence, post-war all buffed up with power – it said it was going to be the top dogs. So it had a vast quantity of nuclear reactors dotted all around France. But what is happening now is that its chickens are coming home to roost.
“EDF (owned by the French state) is 43billion euros in debt, it faces a 100billion euro bill for mandatory safety upgrades, and a significant number of its reactors continue to be offline due to ageing corrosion problems. It also faces a huge decommissioning and waste management bill that is uncosted – they are just beginning to say ‘oh my god’.
“Around a quarter of their reactors are still offline at winter when they really need it. They are even importing power from Germany after being a net exporter. France is panicking about what to do about renewables and insulation.”
But all this could be of concern for Britain, which does rely on some French imports that are sent across the Channel via interconnectors. National Grid has previously warned that if the UK fails to shore up enough energy imports from Europe this winter, it may have to roll out organised blackouts in the “deepest, darkest” nights of the coldest months of the year.
However, while France’s nuclear power issues have sparked concern, Dr Dorfman said the UK is luckier than France in that it is one of the leading players in offshore wind, which could provide a vital lifeline this winter.
He said: “The UK has seriously thought about renewables in the last few years, without any question. But there have been problems with onshore wind and legislation issues. There also problems with the legislation for solar, but offshore wind has helped enormously. But the UK hasn’t really considered about the lowest hanging through which is energy efficiency and insulation.”
When asked whether the UK is lucky that it has not copied the French model, Dr Dorfman responded: “We are hugely lucky. France is in a catastrophic situation in terms of the vast debt that it owes in nuclear and the existential waste and decommissioning problem that it is facing…The UK is certainly in a better position in terms of offshore windpower, but it needs to get its act together in terms of allowing much greater onshore wind and much greater solar…and all the things that make up a balanced energy portfolio.
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“France is not going to change, the reactors are not going to get any younger. Rumour has it, the corrosion issues have been known about for years. Because it takes so long to build reactors, you can’t expect new builds to happen within a decade or two decades.
“Nobody knows what is going to happen with Russia. All we know amongst all this mess is that renewables cost between a quarter and a fifth less than nuclear and that the vast majority of all new power additions worldwide is renewables.”
This comes as analysis by leading renewable energy trade bodies revealed that low carbon power reportedly met more than half of the UK’s electricity needs over the past two months. Renewable UK, the Nuclear Industry Association found that between the end of October and December 18, clean energy sources like wind and solar provided 40 percent of the country’s electricity, while nuclear power plants accounted for 14 percent of demand.
The power that came from both offshore and onshore wind turbines alone generated more than half of Britain’s low carbon power output over the period, while nuclear supplied 27 percent.
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However, the UK does have plans to ramp up its nuclear energy capacity, with projects in the pipeline including Sizewell C in Suffolk, which £700,000 of taxpayer cash will go towards, as well as Hinkley Point C in Somerset.
In fact, the Government has pinpointed nuclear energy as having a key role to play in weaning the UK of foreign fossil fuel imports, arguing it can boost Britain’s energy independence while also helping it to race to net zero by 2050.
As part of its energy strategy unveiled in April, which heavily focused on a number of policies that could help weaken Russia’s grip on UK energy prices, the Government set a target of significantly scaling up nuclear so that it will account for 25 percent of the country’s projected electricity demand by 2040.