Dispatch: Political and Energy Implications of a French Heat Wave

3 MINS READJun 2, 2011 | 18:20 GMT
Analyst Marko Papic discusses the political and energy infrastructure implications of a severe heat wave in France this summer.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

France is expecting to have an epic heat wave this summer, which, due to a combination of political and environmental factors, will have some serious repercussions for the political scene in Paris. Spring 2011 has been exceptionally hot in France. In fact, has been the hottest in 100 years. Furthermore, it has been the driest spring in the last 50 years and therefore this summer is expected to be one of the hottest on record and that includes the 2005 and 2003 heat waves which were quite serious for France. In 2003 heat wave in France was exceptionally severe, with the French minister of health issuing a report that said that about 15,000 people may have died as result of increased temperatures. The 2003 heat wave also had political repercussions. Then-French President Jacques Chirac reshuffled his Cabinet the following year and in 2005, France voted against the EU constitutional treaty in a public referendum. In many ways, the referendum was not really a "no" against Europe as much as a vote of no-confidence to Chirac's government for a slew of issues, one of which was how the government handled the heat wave in both 2003 and the summer of 2005. This time around the effects of the heat wave could even be greater. This is primarily because neighboring Germany has taken eight nuclear reactors off-line — seven immediately after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. This was a political decision for Berlin, with Chancellor Angela Merkel hoping to score political points before important regional elections by catering to environmentalists' demands. However, this takes off-line about 40 percent of Germany's nuclear capacity and Germany is one of the two countries along Great Britain from which France imports electricity during the high-usage months in the summer. The reason importing electricity from Germany and the U.K. will be particularly important for France during a drought is because 24 of its 58 nuclear reactors do not have cooling towers and purely depend on the flow of river water to cool the reactor cores. What this means is that if the level of water in rivers drops, it means that some of the reactors may have to be shut down especially those on the Rhone River in southwest France, where temperatures are expected to be particularly high due to its geographical location. Nonetheless, the heat wave could result in two repercussions. First, it could seal the fate of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, since presidential elections would be seven to eight months after the end of August. And second, it could cause a debate within France on nuclear power in general, even though one of the lessons that France could learn from the crisis is that it doesn't need to switch away from nuclear power but rather build more, both to sustain its electricity demand during the summer months and also to potentially export it at lucrative prices to neighboring Germany, which has already decided to shut down its nuclear power plants by 2022.
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