Could a nuclear power shutdown in France lead to power cuts and price increases in the UK? At the moment France has shut down a third of its reactors and facing a very real possibility of an energy crisis with power cuts. Why has this nuclear power shutdown taken place? The disastrous way behind schedule way, over cost construction of the new reactor at Flamanville in Normandy has opened some very serious cans of worms. Problems have been found in the containment vessel with too much carbon in the steel, this weakens it. Its thought this fault might be replicated in a third of the existing nuclear fleet as well and so a nuclear power shutdown has taken place whilst checks are made. Its worse than this though, since at the same time falsification of safety documents relating to a variety of other components has been discovered to have taken place. Documents are being checked all the way back to 1943 and other countries reactors maybe involved if the French provided components. A Japanese company is also implicated in falsification of safety documents on its nuclear components and has provided parts for the French Nuclear industry.
So why would this effect us? UK power prices have been under pressure for a number of reasons before this. First, no one is investing much in new large scale kit (except for off-shore wind). Second, other renewables have been hit by cuts in support. Third, all the coal fired plants are closing. And lastly Brexit has pushed up the cost of imported fuels (gas/coal/uranium) due to the fall in the pound. The latest problem is that we import electricity from France through the 2GWp cross channel. This makes up about 5% of UK electricity. Whilst its not true to say it as they did on the radio this morning it was explicitly built to import French nuclear electricity, over the years the proportion we import over what we export to France has risen. That is to last month. Then France has been desperately importing our power. So why can’t the French buy power from elsewhere? Well they can and are buying coal fired power from Germany but they are going to have to buy one heck of a lot. Also one source of potential power is down, that is Scandinavian hydro. There has been a severe lack of rain and so output is way down. Another potential source is Spain which has a great solar and wind and has bailed the French out of lesser problems in the past. Spanish solar insolation in winter is the same as the UK’s in Summer. However the Spanish government is taxing its solar output so presumably people are trying to hide their output. So wholesale prices in the UK, France and the rest of Europe have soared.
What are the implications? First all the above means we will see electricity cost increases this winter. There probably will not be power cuts in the UK if there is no major bit of kit that goes down. France however must be lucky to get away without some. Lastly this vindicates all the criticisms we made of nuclear power in our book. It raises real questions over the honesty of the nuclear power industry. If you look on our book’s Amazon page there is a criticism of our stance by someone from the World Nuclear Association. With everything that has happened since then (disasters/delays/cost overuns and now this) I am struggling to work out what we wrote that was wrong?