From Nuclear to Hydro – Climate Slamming Electric Production

June 19, 2022

In France, much vaunted nuclear capacity has been hit by the discovery of widespread corrosion problems in critical systems, and many plants have been shut for repairs. Now as summer arrives, the rivers relied on for cooling the massive, inefficient systems have warmed rapidly, further derating reactors.
Across the planet, climate impacts are putting more pressure on energy generators.

New York Times:

Inspections unearthed alarming safety issues — especially corrosion and faulty welding seals on crucial systems used to cool a reactor’s radioactive core. That was the situation at the Chinon atomic plant, one of France’s oldest, which produces 6 percent of EDF’s nuclear power.

EDF is now scouring all its nuclear facilities for such problems. A dozen reactors will stay disconnected for corrosion inspections or repairs that could take months or years. Another 16 remain offline for reviews and upgrades.

Others are having to cut power production because of climate change concerns: Rivers in the south of France, including the Rhône and the Gironde, are warming earlier each year, often reaching temperatures in the spring and summer too warm to cool reactors.

Today, French nuclear production is at its lowest level since 1993, generating less than half the 61.4 gigawatts that the fleet is capable of producing. (EDF also generates electricity with renewable technologies, gas and coal.) Even if some reactors resume in the summer, French nuclear output will be 25 percent lower than usual this winter — with alarming consequences.

In Italy, the Po River is drying up in historic drought, and that could cut hydro capacity dramatically.

Washington Post:

“We believe that there will be a drop in this wheat productivity by at least 20% or more due to the lack of rain and irrigation,” she said. The Italian farmers confederation estimates that wheat yields could drop by 20% to 40% this year. Wheat is a particular concern for farmers as it’s completely reliant on rain and does not get irrigated.

The irrigation system is also at risk. Usually, river water is lifted with diesel fueled electric pumps to upper basins and then flows down in the vast fields of the valley through hundreds of waterways. But now, pumps are at risk of failing to draw water and excavators are frantically working to constantly dredge dedicated waterways to ensure the water necessary for irrigation.

The water shortage won’t just hamper food production, but energy generation, too. If the Po dries up, numerous hydroelectric power plants will be brought to a halt, at a time where the war in Ukraine has already hiked up energy prices across Europe.

According to a state-owned energy service system operator, 55% of the renewable energy coming from hydroelectric plants in Italy comes from the Po and its tributaries. Experts fear that a lack of hydroelectric power will contribute to increased carbon dioxide emissions, as more electricity will have to be produced with natural gas.

“On the top of the critical situation we are creating an additional damaging situation,” said the Po river authority’s Berselli about the likely surge of greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, in western North America, drought continues, along with record heat, and hydro resources are stressed.

Colorado Public Radio:

By early 2024, projections show water levels in Lake Powell could drop too low for hydropower turbines to operate and generate electricity. 

Tanya Trujillo, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior for water and science, joined the conference virtually to talk about the Colorado River crisis and the demand for states to conserve more water.

“We are facing the growing reality that water supplies for agriculture, fisheries, ecosystems, industry and cities are no longer stable due to climate change,” Trujillo said. 

Trujillo said the agency’s order for water cuts includes Colorado and other states in the upper part of the river system, even though they don’t rely on water supplies collected in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. 

“We need to be taking action in all states, in all sectors, in all available ways,” Trujillo said. “We need to be thinking as one basin.”

Trujillo said it’s up to states to decide how to make the water cuts and said the agency didn’t have a formula for appropriate conservation measures. She said the states have been charged with creating lists of potential ways this water can be saved and that the federal government wants to support those ideas with funding and resources. Trujillo said some of the federal support for states’ efforts would come from the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted in January, which set aside billions of dollars for Western water projects. 

Speaking on a conference panel, Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center at CU Boulder and a former assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, wondered what the federal government’s demand might mean for Colorado if junior water rights holders are cut off from using the Colorado River.

“What do our ski areas look like if we don’t have snowmaking anymore? Those are junior water rights,” Castle said. “What does it look like if part of our West Slope agriculture doesn’t exist anymore? What does that do to food security, what does it do to those communities? Those are the things that we’ve got to be thinking pretty hard about.”

If only we had a way to generate electricity using very little water. Oh, wait…

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3 Responses to “From Nuclear to Hydro – Climate Slamming Electric Production”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Over 15 locations broke their all-time records, including 6 that smashed their previous all-time record high by 1°C or more.

    These were all-time records, and peak heat in France is in late July.

  2. John Oneill Says:

    Even with more than half its reactors offline, France still has much lower power system emissions than all the countries around it – including Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, and Spain, which have far higher proportions of wind and solar. All those countries’ emissions will also go up as a result of having to replace the multiple gigawatts of low-carbon export electricity they normally receive from France.
    Curtailment of river-cooled reactors in summer has been a developing problem for decades. One solution would be to build cooling towers instead, but with the former government’s policy of reducing the percentage of nuclear power from three quarters to a half, there has been little incentive for Electricite de France to invest in its most reliable assets. (Photovoltaic output can drop by 25% at high temperatures, as does wind speed usually.)
    The allegedly anti-monopoly practice of compelling EdF to provide a third of its output at low, fixed rates to competitors, who are then free to onsell it at a profit, or return it at no cost if demand is less than forecast, has further crippled the nuclear industry’s viability.
    https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy8yMzc3NTE3OC9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw/episode/MGM2Yzg4MWItYzkwZS00NzI1LWEzNjAtNTFjOWZiZTk0NWUx?sa=X&ved=0CA0QkfYCahcKEwigq4ubu8f4AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQAQ

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      We definitely have to clean up generator/utility pricing shenanigans all over the place.

      Now tell me about all of the new multi-billion dollar wind and solar plants being developed that take more than ten years to build and are billions over budget.


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