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Climate change may pose key risk to French reactors – court


22 Mar 2023 11:32

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22 Mar 2023 11:32

(Montel) The impact of global warming on France’s nuclear fleet could become “critical” by 2050, with three to four times more outages than today, said the country’s Court of Auditors in a report published late on Tuesday.

“These outages are concentrated, admittedly on short summer periods, but are increasingly long and can prove critical by increasing the risks of pressure on the grid,” said Annie Podeur, president of the second chamber of the court, during a hearing at the Senate.

These outages and capacity cuts led to “losses amounting to several TWh per year”, Podeur said, citing the record unavailability in 2003 of 6 GW of nuclear power, or 10% of France’s installed nuclear capacity.

Extreme heat

Increased risk of extreme heat and droughts amid climate change could impact nuclear plants, which use water to cool down.

Combined with this, the report pointed to the expected significant increase in power demand in the years to come, which would strain the grid.

Each year, the volume of water withdrawn to cover the needs of the French population amounts to 33.5bcm, half of which is used to cool nuclear power plants.

Some 98% of this water is released back into rivers but at a higher temperature, which is regulated on a plant-by-plant basis.

The reduced availability of water resources amid drought could exacerbate conflicts about usage with agriculture, tourism and other industries, said Podeur.

Predicting river flows

Climate models should be updated to include river flow levels for the coming years, recommended the report, adding that EDF needed greater storage capacity for water to cool reactors during periods of low flows.

Last summer, which was particularly hot and dry, France’s nuclear safety authority ASN authorised EDF to exceed temperature limits for certain plants to continue producing power.

This decision was taken after the utility stopped a record number of reactors for maintenance and corrosion probes.

The court urged EDF to quantify the total costs of adapting its fleet to deal with climate change.

The utility spent EUR 1bn on currently operational reactors from 2006-2021 and plans to invest only EUR 612m from 2023-2038, added Podeur.

EDF has estimated that outages related to heat and drought result in a loss of annual nuclear production of around 1%.

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