Heatwave shuts down nuclear power plants
Juliette Jowit and Javier Espinoza
Sunday July 30, 2006
The European heatwave has forced nuclear power plants to reduce or halt production.
The weather, blamed for deaths and disruption across much of the continent,
has caused dramatic rises in the temperature of rivers used to cool the reactors,
raising fears of mass deaths for fish and other wildlife.
Spain shut down the Santa Maria de Garona reactor on the River Ebro, one
of the country's eight nuclear plants which generate a fifth of its national
electricity. Reactors in Germany are reported to have cut output, and others
in Germany and France have been given special permits to dump hot water into
rivers to avoid power failures. France, where nuclear power provides more
than three quarters of electricity, has also imported power to prevent shortages.
The problems have come to light just weeks after Britain declared it will
build a new generation of nuclear power stations, prompting opponents to
claim the crisis proved nuclear reactors - although they emit no carbon dioxide
greenhouse gases - are not the solution to the problem of global warming.
'The main problem they have is: How are they going to expand nuclear power
when they are so vulnerable to such things as global temperature?' said Shaun
Burnie, Greenpeace International's nuclear specialist.
But Bruno Comby, president of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, said
future power stations could have bigger cooling towers, or be built near
the sea. 'The big problem the earth is facing today is global warming, it's
not a one-degree local increase in [the temperature of] a river,' he added.
The heatwave in Britain appeared to break last week, with the Met Office
forecasting more normal summer weather this week. Today London and south-east
England face a repeat of last week's heavy rains; for the rest of the week
the country is expected to alternate between sunny spells, with warm temperatures
However, hotter weather is set to return. 'We could be looking at some very
warm weather coming back towards next weekend,' said meteorologist Andrew
Last week a series of power cuts in central London prompted fears of regular
blackouts as global temperatures are predicted to keep rising, bringing more
long, hot summers. EDF, the capital's main electricity supplier, said the
problems were caused by a 'very unusual' combination of several faults and
huge demand for air-conditioning.
'Over the weekend, our engineers are working round the clock to maintain
power supplies to the area and avoid any further interruptions,' a company
Network Rail, the main rail infrastructure operator, said fewer speed restrictions
were expected in cooler temperatures, although track temperatures can rise
to 20C above the air temperature on hot days.