Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Europe's dry spring could lead to power blackouts

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): One of the driest springs ever recorded in northern Europe could lead to power blackouts this summer, with nuclear reactors going offline because of low river levels. The exceptionally dry weather will also raise food prices and has already forced water restrictions on millions of people, say governments, farm groups and meteorological organisations across the continent.

Large parts of southern Britain, northern France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and other northern and eastern European countries have had their driest three-month spells in more than 50 years, receiving just 25-60% of their long-term average rainfall since February. This has led to parched soils and difficult growing conditions for farmers, as well as to river levels that are dangerously low for wildlife.

Patchy rain has moistened soils in parts of northern Britain, France and Germany over the past few weeks, but with summer approaching and temperatures soaring to over 30C in France, it is not expected that any rains will compensate for months of exceptionally dry weather.

Last week the European Union warned that soils were now "critically dry" in six countries. The French wheat harvest is now expected to be 11.5%-13% down on average despite an increase in the area planted this year and German output is expected to fall 7-9%. In south-east England, many farmers expect crops to fail dramatically unless steady rains come soon….

The Tricastin nuclear power plant on the Rhone River, in France, shot by jean-louis Zimmermann, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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