Following strikes over the unpopular French labor reform, that started over the weekend and crippled the French refining industry leading to gasoline shortages and rationing, things are about to get far more serious for the country whose economy has already been threatened with a sharp slowdown as a result of a relentless wave of labor unrest. According to Reuters, staff in France's 19 nuclear plants - which by definition we assume is essential - have voted to go on strike on Thursday as part of protests over a labour reform, according to a CGT union official.
While industry experts say planned strikes are unlikely to provoke blackouts because of legal limits on strike action in the nuclear industry and France's ability to import power from neighbouring countries, it would not be at all surprising to see the opposite outcome.
"It will start tonight at 2100 (1900 GMT) and last 24 hours," CGT spokesman Laurent Langlard told Reuters on Wednesday. "Our goal is not to bring down the network,” general secretary of the CGT-Energie de l'Aube, Arnaud Pacot, told Francetv Info. On the other hand, considering that France derives about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, it is difficult to envision a different outcome.
Cooling towers of the Electricite de France (EDF)
nuclear power station at Nogent-Sur-Seine
Once stopped, a nuclear reactor would take 3 to 5 days to restart. A spokesman for EDF [French electricity provider] told AFP that it was "difficult" to predict the consequences of such a move.
CGT (General Confederation of Labor) is a national trade union center, one of the five key unions in France. Trade unions in France are known to have strong support among workers, and are able to mobilize employees very rapidly.
The announcement comes amidst a major fuel crisis that is hitting the country due to a massive strike. As of Monday, about 1,600 gas stations were running out of fuel, six out of eight oil refineries were blocked, and five out of around 100 fuel depots affected. French motorists have been queuing in panic to fill up their tanks at service stations that still operate.
The French authorities began by saying there is no fuel crisis in the country, but then France's oil industry federation admitted that they had started using strategic oil reserves against the refinery blockade.
The reserves would last for three months, Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres (UFIP) President Francis Duseux told RMC radio.