French power sector battered again by ongoing strikes

A view shows the TotalEnergies refinery in Gonfreville-L?Orcher as energy workers continue their strike, near Le Havre, during the ninth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government's pension reform, France, March 23, 2023. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

PARIS (Reuters) - Industrial action disrupting French refineries, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, power supply and reactor maintenance stretched into a 16th day on Thursday as protests against the government's forced pension plan reform continue.

The action is part of a nationwide movement against pension system changes including increasing the retirement age by two years to 64, which President Emmanuel Macron has said he is trying to move on from to start other reforms.

Force majeure was declared at the Dunkirk liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in northern France on Thursday after operations were disrupted by the strike, operator Fluxys said in an online bulletin.

The action is expected to last until early Friday, restricting delivery capacity at the site to 70 gigawatt-hours per day (GWh/d), the bulletin said.

A general meeting will be held with workers around noon on Friday to decide if the strike will be renewed, a union source said.

On the refining side, the French government renewed the requisition order for staff at the Fos-sur-Mer petrol depot operated by Gas Depots of Fos (DPF), an energy ministry spokesperson said.

A requisition order has also been prepared for the Gonfreville site in northern France, TotalEnergies' biggest refinery in the country, but the formal notification has not been issued at this stage, the spokesperson added.

Gonfreville was shuttered on Tuesday due to the strike, a spokesperson had said, which has left storage tanks near full.

"I say it forcefully: if the strike is a fundamental constitutional right, blocking (infrastructure) is not one," energy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said.

Unions said they would continue their protest.

"We don't have any other choice but to go on strike and to block the economy until (Macron) surrenders and withdraws his project," Fabrice Criquet, FO-ADP union general secretary, said.

Some 37% of TotalEnergies' operational staff took part in the strike on Thursday morning, a company spokesperson said, disrupting operations at several refineries and depots.

Eleven nuclear reactors had their maintenance blocked, a CGT union official said. This includes the Penly 1 reactor which was discovered to have new stress corrosion cracks earlier this month. Maintenance disruptions have lasted for 11 days.

French power availability was reduced by 21 gigawatts (GW) at nuclear, thermal, and hydropower plants, the union representative said.

(Reporting by Forrest Crellin, Lucien Libert, and Marc Leras; editing by Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)

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