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ENVIRONMENT

Earthquake hits France’s nuclear power output

French electricity giant EDF on Thursday cut its forecast for nuclear energy production this year after suspending operations at an atomic plant in the south of the country following a highly unusual earthquake.

Earthquake hits France's nuclear power output
The Cruas nuclear power plant has suspended production after earthquakes in the region. Photo: AFP

EDF took three reactors at the Cruas plant in the Ardeche region offline after Monday's earthquake, which had a magnitude of 5.4 and was felt across a vast area between the cities of Lyon and Montelimar.

The tremors were particularly felt in Teil, just 15 kilometres from the power plant.

The reactors were halted for checks, as required by the law in these circumstances, although no damage has so far been found.

EDF said as a result it was cutting its projection for nuclear energy production this year to 384-388 terawatt-hours (TWh), down from the previous forecast of 390 TWh.

The original forecast had already been cut due to stoppages at other reactors and weather conditions.

The company said in a statement it expected the Curas reactors to come back online progressively in the first two weeks of December, with the three reactors being relaunched successively on December 2, 6, and 16.

It had previously expressed hope that the restart would take place on Friday.

EDF said it hoped inspections on the site would be wrapped up within a week and the results forwarded to France's national nuclear safety body before the final all-clear is given.

“It is a purely administrative delay. It is important to get the authorisation to restart although, to my knowledge, no anomaly has been detected,” said EDF's chief financial officer Xavier Girre in a conference call with analysts.

EDF's nuclear operations have endured a tricky year, with the company repeatedly rapped by the government over delays at flagship projects.

EDF's European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) reactor in Flamanville is now seven years late and massively over budget, there have also been huge cost overruns at the Hinkley Point nuclear project in Britain and the EPR reactor at Olkiluoto in Finland is running a decade behind schedule.

An official report in October chided EDF for lacking a “culture of quality”.

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ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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