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[cdn-nucl-l] France faces nuclear power 'crisis'
Posted in the UK Guardian on August 13, 2003 and at:
The allowed cooling water release temperature was raised by 1 (one) degree
for 6 reactors AND "a number of conventional power stations". The double
standard that anti-nuclear activists demonstrate is simply unbelievable.
France faces nuclear power crisis
Ecologists warn of threat to river life as nuclear stations get right to
discharge warmer water
Amelia Gentleman in Paris
Wednesday August 13, 2003
Ecologists warned yesterday that the ecosystems in France's rivers were at
grave risk after the government's decision to relax environmental
regulations governing the operation of nuclear stations in an attempt to
avert power cuts caused by the heatwave.
Nuclear plants were granted permission late on Monday to pump their cooling
water into nearby rivers at a higher temperature than usual to allow them to
continue generating electricity, as temperatures across France continued to
hit 40C (104F) for a second week.
The political fallout from the extreme weather continued to rage yesterday,
with opposition politicians and health workers joining environmentalists to
accuse the government of complacency.
"Deaths, pollution, forest-fires, electricity shortages, agricultural damage
... The government is under the grill," the front page of the leftwing daily
The chorus of criticism was so loud that Jean-Pierre Raffarin broke off from
his holiday in an Alpine retreat to defend his record. Stressing that there
was no place for party politics when the country was facing such exceptional
temperatures, he said his administration had been working on preventative
measures "for several weeks".
France's health ministry rushed a heat hotline into service yesterday, with
operators trained to answer questions on how to deal with the heat, and the
health ministry said extra beds would be made available for those affected.
Demand for electricity has soared as the population turns up air
conditioning and fridges, but nuclear power stations, which generate around
75% of France's electricity, have been operating at a much reduced capacity
and several reactors have stopped working entirely.
In some regions, river water levels have dropped so low that the vital
cooling process has become impossible, while elsewhere the water
temperatures after the cooling process have exceeded environmental safety
An exceptional exemption from the legal requirements was granted to six
nuclear reactors and a number of conventional power stations, allowing them
to discharge water one degree hotter than normal.
In another attempt to conserve energy for the nation, France, which is
Europe's main electricity exporter, cut its power exports by more than half
The environment minister, Roselyne Bachelot, said "sizeable blackouts" were
still possible and called on consumers to cut back consumption. Air
conditioning at her ministry was switched off as an example.
Michael Luze, a spokesman for Greenpeace France, said the government's
decision reflected a willingness to put industrial concerns ahead of the
environment, adding that since biodiversity in France's rivers was already
suffering as a result of the heatwave it was dangerous to allow a further
increase in temperatures.
"This incident serves as a reminder that France made the wrong choice when
it opted for nuclear power - a system which no longer functions properly,"
Philippe Brousse, a spokesman for the Get out of Nuclear pressure group,
said France was suffering from its overreliance on nuclear energy. "This is
a scandalous dispensation, which has the sole aim of protecting the nuclear
industry, and will cause grave damage to the environment." Further popular
alarm about the safety of France's nuclear reactors was triggered last week
when Electricité de France began experimenting with a new sprinkler system
to cool the concrete walls of a power station which was nearing danger
The precise consequences of the increase in river temperature are not clear.
Many varieties of fish are threatened once temperatures reach 28C (82F)
because the heat makes the oxygen concentrations in the river drop, which
can asphyxiate the fish.
As France experienced its hottest summer since 1947, hospital workers
continued to report high numbers of deaths of elderly patients, precipitated
by the heat.
Patrick Pelloux, president of the emergency health workers' association,
said yesterday he believed as many as 100 people across France had died as a
result of the temperatures in the past five days. At the Bois Joli
retirement home in a Paris suburb, five people aged 89 to 96 died in the
heat at the weekend, despite attempts by nurses to keep them cool.
Paris recorded peak levels of pollution yesterday and forest fires continued
to rage in the south of France.
The wine harvest in the Beaujolais region began a month early yesterday, for
the first time, because grapes have ripened prematurely in the scorching
heat. The earliest that grapes were gathered previously in the region was
1893, when picking began on August 25.
Bus drivers from one union threatened to go on strike today, demanding air
conditioning, sunglasses and the right to wear shorts. Free supplies of
bottled water and "heat breaks" were granted to workers at a Peugeot factory
in the east of France.