Energy

French Nuclear Industry In ‘Total Crisis’ As 20 Reactors Shut Down

Industry regulators have shut down 20 French nuclear reactors, causing power prices to spike across Europe.

The reactors were shut down due to a scandal about sub-standard parts. Investigators discovered in 2014 that a reactor in northern France falsified quality control reports about parts. The crisis is terrifying environmentalists, and has caused France to reopen mothballed coal plants for the first time in 32 years.

France’s production of nuclear power has been steadily falling since May, according to Reuters, largely due to a law passed by the French government last November intended to prop up solar power. The law requires the country to reduce its share of nuclear energy production from 75 percent to only 50 percent by 2025.

The legislation could force Electricite de France (EDF), the country’s state-controlled utility, to close 18 to 20 of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2025. France’s nuclear industry is one of the most advanced in the world and is still very active in developing nuclear technology and is building some of the world’s most advanced reactors.

France currently operates 63,200 megawatts of nuclear capacity, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The law requiring nuclear reactors to be shut down in favor of solar power is extremely controversial in France. It stems from a promise made by French President François Hollande during the 2012 election to prop up his temporary alliance with the anti-nuclear Green party.

EDF owns most of France’s reactors, but the company has serious financial problems and many of its projects have credit ratings below investment grade. The company is more than $40 billion in debt. Shares in EDF have fallen 55 percent over the past year, reducing its market capitalization to only $23.6 billion. The French government owns 85 percent of EDF.

Shutting down reactors is a major policy shift as reactors and fuel products and services are a major French export. The country is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity and mainly sells to Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain — it earns France about $3.38 billion annually.

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