• This Tuesday, the EDF group held a press conference to take stock of the installations of its nuclear power plants in times of drought and heat wave.

  • While for several years French operators have been facing a sharp rise in temperatures which sometimes push them to slow down their machines, the EDF fleet is ready to face a "summer which promises to be hot and dry", assured the producer. of electricity.

  • So, are French power plants threatened by global warming?

    Answer with Emmanuelle Galichet, doctor in nuclear physics and lecturer at the Cnam (National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts) in nuclear science and technology.

It's hot for the nuclear plants.

This Tuesday the EDF group presented to the press the state of its nuclear installations in times of drought and heat wave.

And the French nuclear fleet is "ready for this summer" despite the risk of heat waves and the drought that the country has been experiencing since the beginning of the year, said Cécile Laugier, in charge of the environment and forecasting with the management. of EDF's nuclear production.

The fact remains that, during the hot weather in early June, EDF had to make production adjustments, which notably concerned the Saint-Alban power station (Isère).

So what are the links between nuclear energy and heat waves?

And how to avoid heatstroke at nuclear power plants?

Answers with Emmanuelle Galichet, researcher and lecturer in nuclear science and technology.

What is the impact of global warming on nuclear power?

To understand the impact of global warming on nuclear power, you must first understand how a nuclear power plant works.

"A nuclear power plant, to operate, needs to be cooled", specifies Emmanuelle Galichet.

This cooling can be done in two ways: “First of all, you have to cool the entire secondary system, which is called the turbo-alternator system, ie a machine room where the electricity is produced.

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The principle ?

"We take water from the environment, we use it to cool the secondary system and we release it into the environment," says Emmanuelle Galichet.

“In times of drought or heat wave, there are laws, decrees, regulations in short, which prohibit the taking of water from nature if it exceeds a certain temperature or is below a certain flow rate”.

But cooling a nuclear power plant also means ensuring “nuclear safety”.

Emmanuelle Galichet explains: “When we talk about nuclear safety, we are referring to the protection of the reactor core.

Indeed, the mission of the plant is to contain the radiological risk inside this core.

To ensure its safety functions, water is needed in particular to maintain the reactor core at a certain temperature.

How can power plants and operators adapt?

To be “resilient in the face of global warming, power plants have no choice but to update their process,” says the teacher-researcher.

Thus the operators, in conjunction with the ASN (nuclear safety authority), set up various systems, including the most well-known of them: the EDF group's “extreme heat” plan.

“These plans include various measures such as: adding air conditioners, increasing the capacity of heat exchangers, modifying materials so that they are more resilient to temperatures, etc.

“, specifies Emmanuelle Galichet.

The objective: to adapt to an increase in the outside temperature.

These six nuclear power plants (Golfech (Tarn-et-Garonne), Blayais (Gironde), Bugey (Ain), Saint-Alban (Isère), Tricastin (Drôme) and Chaux (Ardennes)) could therefore be subject to special attention from EDF or even a one-off drop in electricity production during this summer of 2022, which promises to be hot and dry.

Are French power plants threatened by global warming?

" Nope !

“, if we are to believe our expert.

“Today there are power stations that operate despite very high temperatures.

In the United States, there is, for example, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant which was designed “in a desert”, specifies Emmanuelle Galichet.

Another fairly telling example: “the number of nuclear power plants in Abu Dhabi which operate without any problems despite the very high outside temperatures”.

If we cannot deny the impact of global warming on French power plants, the RTE, manager of the electricity transmission network, recently issued a "reassuring" report, adds the doctor in nuclear physics: "By 2050, the RTE predicts a loss of production which would approach, in a very hot year, 0.4% of production in months over a year.

The French nuclear fleet is largely sized to reap such a loss, it is very insignificant in the end.

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Our nuclear file

Finally, “the plants affected are mainly those located in hot regions, such as those of Bugey or Saint-Alban.

All those by the sea will in fact be much less affected.

»

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