Electricity imports hit France's energy autonomy

Nov 20, 2009 01:00 AM

France has for decades been fiercely proud of its world-beating nuclear industry but is now having to import electricity from its neighbours and could face blackouts this winter.
News of the imports prompted the environmental group Greenpeace to say that this was further proof that France's policy of producing three quarters of its electricity from nuclear power was a big mistake.

France decided after the 1970s oil crises to rapidly expand its nuclear power capacity in order to build up reliable energy supplies, and has long exported power to its neighbours. But ever-rising demand for electricity, combined with ageing nuclear reactors, have brought that policy under increasing scrutiny.
A third of France's 58 nuclear reactors were down and one was operating at 60 % capacity at the start of November. A strike at the EdF power firm earlier this year delayed the annual programme to replace fuel rods at the plants, causing a backlog that resulted in output being reduced for several months tocome, industry executives said. And drought this summer lowered water levels in dams and further decreased electricity production, EdF said.

The power grid operator RTE said this month that suppliers might be forced to ask big industrial clients to ration power use and warned it could even resort to rolling power cuts in some regions. Poorly-supplied Brittany in the northwest and the Nice region on the Cote d'Azur would likely be the worst hit, RTE said. The grid operator said that electricity production was at such a reduced level that in October, for the first time since 1982, France had to import 458 GWh from Germany, Britain and Switzerland.
"Selling the idea of energy autonomy was commercial dressing for the nuclear lobby," said an expert on France's nuclear industry.

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