High water temperatures threaten to lower France’s already low nuclear production, putting further strain on operator EDF (EDF.PA) at a time when half of its reactors are down due to maintenance and corrosion difficulties.

In recent days, the valley between the Rhone and Garrone rivers has seen scorching temperatures, which are projected to reach above 40 degrees Celsius on Friday and continue above seasonal levels into early next week.

This is problematic since river water is often used to cool reactors before returning them at a higher temperature. During periods of extreme heat, reactor output is restricted to prevent hot water from reentering rivers and harming animals.

EDF has imposed output limits at the Tricastin Rhone facility beginning July 16, the Blayais plant beginning July 17, the Saint Alban Rhone plant beginning July 17, and the Bugey Rhone plant beginning July 19.

Refinitiv analyst Nathalie Gerl added that an extension of a recent production decrease at the Golfech facility on the Garrone is also probable, adding that data indicated limits remained for many weeks during a comparable severe heatwave in 2018.

The French energy regulator ASN notified changes to the plants on Friday in order to ensure a minimal level of electricity generation.

EDF has already had to reduce scheduled output multiple times this year due to a variety of issues at its reactors, and it expects production losses to cost it 18.5 billion euros ($18.6 billion) in 2022 core profits.

By Tuesday, the French government is expected to unveil specifics of its proposal to nationalize the indebted firm, in which the state currently owns 84 percent.

The maximum river temperature before limits apply at the Bugey plant is 26 degrees Celsius, whereas it is 28 degrees Celsius at the Golfech, Tricastin, and St. Alban plants, and 30 degrees Celsius at the Blayais plant.

Because of corrosion issues and prolonged maintenance schedules at half of EDF’s 56 reactors, current nuclear availability is the lowest in at least four years.

This implies that France is importing power at a time when it should be exporting it, and EDF is purchasing electricity at high market costs, all as Europe scrambles to find alternate energy sources to Russia.

Things might grow worse in the winter unless EDF can recover full production – while Refinitiv predictions indicate a return to more typical output levels in the coming months.

According to grid operator RTE statistics, the power mix in France is diversified, with roughly 32% of output coming from wind, solar, and hydro, therefore power generation is more dependent on sun intensity and wind speeds than mild temperatures.

Rising river temperatures, on the other hand, may have a knock-on impact since certain coal-to-power plants need cooling water from rivers and depend on rainfall or snowfall to stabilize river levels and enable uninterrupted coal barge transit.

High temperatures, according to EDF, are unlikely to damage the functioning of its British reactors.

Source: Reuters

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