PARIS — As the European Union moves to cut ties to Russian oil and gas in the wake of Moscow’s war on Ukraine, France has been betting on its nuclear plants to weather a looming energy crunch. Nuclear power provides about 70 percent of France’s electricity, a bigger share than any other country in the world.
But around half of France’s atomic fleet, the largest in Europe, has been taken offline as a storm of unexpected problems swirls around the nation’s state-backed nuclear power operator, Électricité de France, or EDF.
The outages at EDF, Europe’s biggest electricity exporter, have sent France’s nuclear power output tumbling to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, pushing French electric bills to record highs just as the war in Ukraine is stoking broader inflation. Instead of pumping vast amounts of electricity to Britain, Italy and other European countries pivoting from Russian oil, France faces the unsettling prospect of initiating rolling blackouts this winter and having to import power.
The crunch could not have hit at a worse time. Oil prices touched record highs after the European Union agreed to cut off Russian oil, intensifying economic pain in Europe and adding to a cost-of-living crisis that France and other countries are scrambling to address. The price of natural gas, which France uses to make up for fluctuations in nuclear-powered energy, has also surged.
As Russian aggression redefines Europe’s energy considerations, nuclear energy’s advocates say it can help bridge Europe’s fuel deficit, complementing a shift that was already underway to adapt wind, solar and other renewable energy to meet ambitious climate-change targets.
But fixing the crisis at EDF won’t be easy.