France’s nuclear response to the Russian-origin energy crisis in Europe

Faced with what is seen as a Russian political comeback by reducing energy exports to Europe, France is turning to nuclear options to secure its own supplies and provide electricity to the continent.

President Emmanuel Macron has announced his intention to build six new nuclear reactors and, according to the World Nuclear Association, he is also considering eight more, depending on electricity needs.

On July 27, Russian energy giant Gazprom again reduced gas flow in Nord Stream 1, further increasing European tensions over available supplies.

Germany called the move political, but Russia again blamed technical issues.

The possibility that Russia will exacerbate Europe’s energy crisis by completely cutting off natural gas has increased and caused gas prices to rise nearly 2%.

“Everyone in the market was expecting Russian volumes to drop. But the market didn’t expect the flow to drop so quickly,” James Huckstepp, head of Emea gas analysis, told Reuters. Financial Times.

The Russian cut was just the latest in a series of cuts and brought the amount of natural gas flowing through the pipeline to 20% of its capacity.

In a speech on July 25, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “gas blackmail” because Europe supports his country against the Russian invasion.

“It’s an open gas war that Russia is waging against a united Europe – that’s exactly how it should be perceived. They don’t care what will happen to people, how they will suffer – from hunger due to the blocking of ports or winter cold and poverty… or occupation… These are just different forms of terror.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy answers questions during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on April 23, 2022. (John Moore/Getty Images)

On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, escalating a conflict that has lasted since 2014. In response, and in an attempt to curb Russia’s aggression, the United States, in coordination with the G7 group of nations and the European Union, began instituting a series of escalating sanctions.

At first, the sanctions were financial: the United States blocked major Russian banks like VEB and Promsvyazbank, according to the International Trade Administration.

Then the United States and its allies sanctioned dozens of Russian defense companies, along with Russian elites and their family members, to cut off support and financial aid to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The freezing of assets of Sberbank and Alfa Bank, two of Russia’s largest financial institutions, followed this.

However, these sanctions did not deter Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, and on March 8, President Joe Biden signed an executive order banning imports of Russian oil. Before the ban, the United States imported about 700,000 barrels a day.

Germany and Poland have also pledged to ban Russian oil by ending pipeline imports by the end of the year.

On June 3, the European Union joined the aforementioned countries in sanctioning Russian oil imports by imposing a partial embargo on Russian oil, effective from December 2022 and February 2023, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. .

Importantly, pipeline imports were exempt from future bans, as EU member states like Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic rely on them for power generation.

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The Astora natural gas depot, which is Western Europe’s largest natural gas storage, is pictured in Rehden, Germany, March 16, 2022. Astora is part of the Gazprom Germania group. (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters)

In response, Russia promised to find other importers for its oil, particularly China and India. Putin signed a decree stipulating that foreign buyers of natural gas had to pay in rubles, and Russia began to reduce its natural gas exports to Europe.

Denmark, Finland, Bulgaria and Poland all refused to comply, and Russia cut off gas supplies to those countries.

Then Russia halved natural gas imports to Slovakia and Italy and completely cut off France. The Russian explanation for the technical problems was rejected by Germany. On July 23, Russia further cut gas supplies to some European countries.

Notably, Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to European countries has led to an emerging energy crisis in Europe, as Russia is the largest natural gas supplier to the 27-nation bloc.

“Russian gas pipeline flow to Europe has fallen sharply to about 40% of the level a year ago, contributing to a sharp increase in natural gas prices in June,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported. for July.

The Kremlin strikes back

In addition, the energy sanctions imposed on Russia have had a moderate impact on the Russian economy and a pronounced effect on Europe.

“The Russian economy is estimated to have contracted in the second quarter less than expected, with exports of crude oil and non-energy products holding up better than expected.

“In addition, domestic demand is also showing some resilience thanks to the containment of the effect of sanctions on the domestic financial sector and a weaker than expected labor market weakening.

“Similarly, the effects of the war on major European economies have been more negative than expected, due to rising energy prices as well as declining consumer confidence and slowing manufacturing activity resulting from continued supply chain disruptions and rising input costs,” the IMF reports.

More concerning, the IMF analyzed the potential impact of a complete shutdown of Russian natural gas to Germany and found that gross domestic product (GDP) would contract by 1.5% in 2022, by 2.7% in 2023, and would cause inflation to rise by two percentage points. in 2022 and 2023.

Moreover, without a reduction of at least 9% in gas consumption, Germans would experience a gas shortage, concentrated in the winter months.

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Germany relies on wind and solar power to cover 65% of its energy needs by 2030. (Shutterstock)

In 2000, Germany enacted the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), which required 6% of energy to come from renewable resources.

In 2017, the law was revised, requiring that 40 to 45% of energy come from renewable energies in 2025, and up to 65% in 2030, according to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Action for the climate.

Thus began the transition from fossil fuels, called Energiewende, to renewable energies.

In 2017, nuclear had fallen to 11.7% of the German electricity mix, and lignite and hard coal to 36.6%.

Renewables had increased and accounted for 33.3% of the German electricity mix, with wind being the driving force and totaling around 110 TWh.

Wind and Solar

The percentages of nuclear and fossil fuels have fallen in Germany, but renewables cannot entirely make up the difference. Therefore, in 2017, natural gas accounted for 13.2% of the German energy mix.

In 2019, natural gas reached 25% of Germany’s total energy consumption, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Dr Sarah Lohmann, non-resident fellow of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said: “Unfortunately, in its passion to lead the pack, Germany hasn’t quite done his calculations.

“He has not created enough renewable energy to replace nuclear and coal which he is determined to phase out. When the last of the nuclear reactors are shut down next year, there will likely be a shortage of 4, 5 gigawatts, equivalent to what 10 large coal-fired power plants would provide.

Lohmann further stated that in Germany, “the median household pays 43% more than the average paid on electricity bills in 27 other countries of the European Union, thanks to taxes and charges which account for 50% of the tab, and who are supposed to pay for the transition to renewable energy.

To make up for this shortfall, Germany has partly turned to Russia. But, because Russia is now under heavy sanctions and reacting accordingly, in July the German parliament rushed to pass legislation allowing it to bring retired coal-fired power plants back into service.

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The cooling towers of the two reactors are in action at the Golfech nuclear power plant in southwestern France on November 27, 2012. (Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images)

In its July 2022 report, the IMF pointed out that Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, Italy and Germany were the most vulnerable to Russian energy aggression due to their dependence on energy imports. ‘energy.

Conversely, he highlighted countries like France, Spain and the UK as reasonably isolated.

More importantly, in addition to being relatively immune to Russian energy provocations, France is Europe’s largest exporter of electricity (mainly to the UK and Italy), exporting more than 70 TWh every year for the past decade, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Energy independence

Indeed, France derives approximately 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy and 17% from recycled nuclear fuel.

“Following the 1974 decision, France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and electricity costs below the European average.

“It also has an extremely low level of carbon dioxide emissions per capita from electricity generation, since more than 80% of its electricity comes from nuclear or hydropower.”

To consolidate France’s energy independence and help Europe during its energy crisis, in February 2022 Macron announced plans to increase his country’s nuclear capacity.

Katie Spence

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Katie covers energy and politics for The Epoch Times. Prior to beginning her journalism career, Katie proudly served in the Air Force as an Airborne Operations Technician on JSTARS. She received her degree in Analytical Philosophy and a minor in Cognitive Studies from the University of Colorado. Katie’s writing has appeared on CNSNews.com, The Maverick Observer, The Motley Fool, First Quarter Finance, The Cheat Sheet and Investing.com. Email her at katie.spence@epochtimes.us

Mary I. Bruner