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ENVIRONMENT

France may restart coal-fired power station to avoid energy shortage this winter

The French government is considering reopening a coal-fired power plant in the north east of the country to avoid energy shortages this winter.

France may restart coal-fired power station to avoid energy shortage this winter
An aerial view shows the Emile Huchet - GazelEnergie coal power plant, on February 14, 2022 in Carling, eastern France. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP)

France’s Ministry of Energy said in a statement on Sunday that the coal-fired power plant in Saint-Avold, Moselle, may be put into use this winter “as a precautionary measure, given the Ukrainian situation” and tensions on the energy market.

Though the plant was closed on March 31st, the decision to potentially restart it does not come as a total surprise. The government had not ruled out the possibility of re-opening the plant as a way of securing the country’s supply of electricity in light of the war in Ukraine and setbacks in the nuclear sector.

Even though President Emmanuel Macron had promised to close all coal-fired power plants in France by 2022, the ministry reiterated that restarting the plant would still be “part of the closure plan,” assuring the public that President Emmanuel Macron’s commitment to close all coal-fired power plants in France “remains unchanged.”

The ministry added that should the plant be reopened, electricity produced by coal would remain below 1 percent of that used across France, and that no Russian coal would be used.

The statement comes as leaders from France’s top three energy providers issued a joint statement urging the public to reduce their energy consumption this summer in order to ensure adequate stocks for the winter. 

READ MORE: French energy firms urge ‘immediate’ cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

As of late May nearly half of France’s nuclear reactors were offline, while international demand in the oil market has increased. However, French government officials have said there is “no risk of shortage in the short term,” though experts warn of potential “spot shortages,” as in many cases it is not possible to substitute one type of oil for another. 

Other European countries, like Germany, have already decided to reopen their coal-fired plants in order to combat possible energy shortages this winter.

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ENVIRONMENT

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

French prosecutors said on Friday they would investigate the appearance of vast quantities of tiny toxic plastic pellets along the Atlantic coast that endanger marine life and the human food chain.

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

The criminal probe will follow several legal complaints about the pellet invasion lodged by local authorities and the central government in Paris, Camille Miansoni, chief prosecutor in the western city of Brest, told AFP.

The microscopic pellets, called nurdles, are the building blocks for most of the world’s plastic production, from car bumpers to salad bowls.

They are usually packed in bags of 25 kilogrammes for transport, each containing around a million nurdles, which are sometimes called “Mermaids’ Tears”. 

But they can easily spill into the ocean when a cargo ship sinks or loses a container. Environmentalists also suspect that factories sometimes dump them into the sea.

Fish and birds often mistake them for food and, once ingested, the tiny granules can make their way into the diet of humans.

Experts told AFP the nurdles found along the coast of Brittany may have come from a plastic industry container that fell into the sea.

“We can’t rule out a single source for the industrial pellets,” said Nicolas Tamic at the CEDRE pollution research body in Brest.

On Tuesday, the French government filed a legal complaint against persons unknown and called for a international search for any containers that may have been lost at sea.

Local authorities have followed suit, and the environmental crime branch of the Brest prosecutor’s office will lead the investigation.

Last weekend, around 100 people took part in a clean-up campaign on a microplastic-infested beach in Pornic in Brittany to collect pellets and draw attention to the problem. 

“We think they’ve come from a container that may have been out there for a while and opened up because of recent storms,” said Lionel Cheylus, spokesman for the NGO Surfrider Foundation.

“Our action is symbolic. It’s not like we’re going to pick up an entire container load,” said Annick, a pensioner, as she filled her yoghurt pot with nurdles. 

French politicians have taken note. Joel Guerriau, a senator from the region, has called for a “clear international designation” of  the pellets as being harmful.

Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechu labelled the nurdles “an environmental nightmare”, telling AFP the government would support associations fighting pellet pollution.

Ingesting plastic is harmful for human health but nurdles, in addition, attract chemical contaminants found in the sea to their surface, making them even more toxic.

Measuring less than five millimetres in size, they are not always readily visible except when they wash up in unusually huge quantities, as has been the case since late November along the northwestern French coast.

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