Will the real renaissance please stand up?

Posted 19 July by David Sear


You are going to have to bear with me for a minute, because I am still well and truly in holiday mode. In fact, this is my first day back in the office after a glorious three weeks spent in France with my partner.

Our days were filled with leisurely hikes and cycle rides, with plenty of time allocated to visiting the many monuments, castles and historic villages which dot the countryside.

The beautiful village of Candes-Saint-Martin on the Loire..

Indeed, conversations reflected our tranquil frame of mind and ranged from: “Wow, look at those amazing tapestries,” to “Shall we pop into that twelfth century church?” and even “mmm, delicious ‘cafe au lait’”.

Until, that is, my partner gave me a nudge and asked “where’s all that smoke coming from?”

At this stage, I might add, we were half-way through a cycle trip along the Loire. If you’ve never visited, let me explain that the Loire is a wonderful river valley with sprawling forests and farmlands. In a by-gone age the French noblesse built magnificent residences here to pass the hot summer months.

But don’t just take my word for it: the Loire Valley is inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List as follows: The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments (the châteaux), and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment, primarily the river Loire itself.

So when my partner mentioned “smoke”, it was hard to imagine what kind of industry might be nestling amongst the greenery. An old forge, perhaps? Or even a pottery?

When it came, the answer was immediately obvious. No, not smoke, but steam from a set of cooling towers. And not just any towers, mind, but the ones at the Chinon Nuclear Power Plant.

Seen from the sunflower fields: the nuclear power plant at Chinon.

Later on I managed to find out that construction began at Chinon in 1957, with commissioning during 1964. A total of seven reactors have been built, although the first three, of the Magnox type, have since been decommissioned. The remaining four PWR reactors currently produce enough electricity to meet some six per cent of France’s domestic energy requirements.

So it was a fairly substantial plant and initially it was therefore quite a surprise to find such a monument to modern technology set in the Loire, which attracts millions of tourists every year. But in truth, expect for the steam the power station is pretty much invisible. In fact during the design stage the height of the cooling towers was kept as low as possible so as not to block any views of the landscape.

So what’s the point of this little anecdote? Well, firstly just to point out that the Loire is a very attractive holiday destination and my arms are nicely tanned, thank you. Secondly, that wherever this reporter may be, applications involving valves, pumps and stainless steels are never far from his mind. And last but by no means least, please do note that my colleagues are busy organizing the very first Nuclear Exchange. Set for November 29th and 30th in Maastricht, The Netherlands, the event will bring together the flow control and corrosion communities in nuclear power generation in a unique, lounge setting.

If you are involved in the nuclear power industry – as an end user, an engineering company, a supplier, a regulator, etc – then this event is very definitely one to jot down in your diary!

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