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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Members of the band
Members of the band "Kalush Orchestra" pose onstage with the winner's trophy and Ukraine's flags after winning on behalf of Ukraine the Eurovision Song contest 2022 on May 14, 2022 at the Pala Alpitour venue in Turin. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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ENERGY

Energy shortages: What’s the problem with France’s nuclear industry?

As Europe prepares to face a winter without Russian gas, France should be in a better position than most thanks to its large domestic nuclear industry - but a series of problems with French nuclear plants has led to a power shortage.

Energy shortages: What's the problem with France's nuclear industry?

France usually produces around 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear, and is at most times a net exporter of electricity. It does import gas – in 2021, 17 percent of France’s gas came from Russia – but overall the country is one of the more self-sufficient in Europe when it comes to energy.

That should in theory mean that it is in a good position to get through the winter without Russian gas, since Russian supplier Gazprom appears to have turned off pipeline supplies to Europe, apparently in retaliation for EE sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine in February.

France has managed to almost entirely fill its gas reserves, and also arrange gas supply deals with other countries, but a series of problems with the country’s nuclear power plants mean that electricity production has dipped sharply, leaving France having to import part of its electricity.

Although the situation is not as bad as in other countries such as neighbouring Germany, the French government is working on a plan for sobriété energétique (energy sobriety) to cut the country’s energy usage by 10 percent, the amount judged necessary to avoid any kind of energy rationing this winter, even if the winter is exceptionally cold.

READ ALSO Will there be energy rationing in France this winter?

So what’s gone wrong with French nuclear?

The French electricity distributor RTE publishes real-time data showing where France’s electricity comes from – on Friday at 8am this showed 23,262 MW of power produced by nuclear, making up 55 percent of France’s total, with the rest made up by wind (19 percent) gas (12 percent) hydro (10 percent), biofuels (2 percent) and solar (1 percent). France did not export any energy that day and instead imported 2658 MW.

Energy production in France on September 9th 2022. Data: rte-France.com

One year ago – on September 9th 2021, France was not importing any power and exported 9763MW. On that day at 8am, 75 percent of electricity produced in France came from nuclear, with 42,991MW produced in total from French nuclear plants. The rest was made up of hydro (10 percent) gas (8 percent) wind (3 percent) biofuels (2 percent) and coal (2 percent)

Energy production in France on September 9th 2021. Data rte-france.com

Several factors account for the sharp fall in production;

Hot summer 

France has had an exceptionally hot summer – the second hottest on record – and this affects nuclear plants because of the cooling process.

Nuclear plants require large amounts of water to keep the reactors cool, and many French plants are build next to rivers to ensure a steady supply of water. However France’s exceptionally hot summer has led to drought conditions on many rivers, meaning that water supply has been limited and therefore the plants have had to limit their consumption.

If river water rises above a certain temperature it is also less effective for cooling, meaning that plants have to limit production.

Although the summer heatwaves have largely subsided, large parts of France are still on drought alert with normal conditions not expected to reappear until October.

Closures 

But it’s not just a case of lower production rates – many of France’s nuclear power plants are not producing anything at all right now.

Exact figures vary according to the day, but around half of France’s 56 nuclear reactors have been closed at any one time over the last few months. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: France cannot afford to keep shielding consumers from energy price rises

Some of the closures are planned short-term closures to allow routine maintenance and repairs, while others are longer closures.

Covid

The industry is still feeling some of the knock-on effects of Covid when routine maintenance was postponed or repairs cancelled during periods of lockdown or staff shortages, which means that nuclear plants have had a higher number of short-term closures this year than usual, as staff catch up with the backlog.

Cracks 

However, there is another more serious problem – cracks. Since January, 13 plants have been subject to emergency closure because of the discovery of corrosion in the cooling pipes, which takes the form of tiny cracks (known in French as micro-fissures), some so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.

The majority of the cracks have been found in the emergency cooling systems for the plants, which must be ready to be used at any time to cool the reactor in an emergency situation. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the plants are unusable, but it requires urgent and non-planned maintenance to repair any areas showing signs of corrosion and production cannot restart until this work is done since, for obvious reasons, nuclear plants have very tight safety standards.

The majority of the cracks have been found at France’s older plants and although it is a known issue in the nuclear industry, French experts are concerned that in some plants it has happened earlier than anticipated.

Edf has launched a full inspection of all its plants, and the French government and Edf say that all plants where corrosion has been discovered will be back operating at full capacity by February.

So what is the French government doing about this?

Short-term solution

The short-term solution is obviously to fix the cracks, and Edf says this will be done, and the maintenance backlog caught up, by February, hopefully in time for the coldest part of the year.

The second step is to reduce energy use by 10 percent this winter – to cope with both reduced electricity supply and the shortage of Russian gas. The government says that this will ensure no need for any type of energy rationing, even if it is an exceptionally cold winter. The plan will also form the part of a longer-term strategy to cut energy use by 30 percent by 2030, in order to tackle climate change. 

Long-term solution

The question of how France produces its power has been a contentious political issue for some time, with both Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor François Hollance trying to step back from nuclear power.

The country’s coal-fired power stations have all been closed, the last once earlier this year, although there is now the option to re-start it if necessary this winter.

Macron in 2018 announced plans to close several of the country’s older nuclear power stations too, with the aim of increasing renewables such as wind, solar and hydro energy.

However France has lagged behind other European countries in its renewables sector, with the first ever offshore wind farm only opening in 2022, decades after other European countries, and onshore wind farms become a political issue in the 2022 election campaign as far-right leader Marine Le Pen vowed to block new development and tear down existing ones, if she was elected.

Since 2018, Macron seems to have rowed back on his aim of cutting nuclear production, several times speaking in support of France’s nuclear energy both for environmental reasons and reasons of “energy sovereignty”. 

A new nuclear plant at Flamanville – commissioned by Hollande – is due to open in 2023, more than 10 years after its scheduled opening date. 

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