France’s oldest nuclear power plant is now closed

The Fessenheim nuclear plant (Grand Est) closed yesterday (June 29), causing controversy among local residents and climate change protesters both for and against nuclear power.

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The plant has been in operation for 43 years, but on Monday night (June 29) electricity provider EDF disconnected the second reactor from the national grid, closing the plant completely.

The first reactor was used for the last time on February 22, 2020.

It is expected that it could take up to 15 years to dismantle the two reactors at Fessenheim, beginning with removing the radioactive combustible. This step should be complete by 2023. It is thought that further dismantlement could then begin in 2025, and continue until at least 2040.

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Joy and sadness over closure

The closure of the site comes as good news for those living nearby (in France, Germany and Switzerland) who are against the use of nuclear power for environmental reasons.

However, it has caused divisions within the environmental community, with some arguing that nuclear power stations benefit the environment on the basis that electricity produced by Fessenheim will be replaced by electricity produced by a coal-powered plant in Germany.

Last night pro-nuclear climate protesters gathered outside Greenpeace headquarters in Paris (Ile-de-France) to voice their disapproval over the closure of the site.

The closure has also been opposed by the 2,500 inhabitants of the town of Fessenheim, who rely on the plant for economic purposes.

In 2017, the plant employed 750 people and 300 service providers, but only 60 EDF employees will be needed up to 2024 to dismantle the plant.

A trade union for workers, CGT Fessenheim, tweeted: “This situation is like an economic, social and ecological genocide. Sending strength to the employees of Fessenheim.”

No plans for site after closure

While there are no official plans for the land on which the plant currently stands, it has been suggested that the plant may become a decontamination plant for radioactive metals, or a biofuel factory.

President of the Grand-Est region, Jean Rottner, has complained that the government closed the site without confirming a replacement project. He expects that the first businesses may not emerge on the site until “the end of 2021, running into 2022”.

Meanwhile, he said that “more than 60%” of the 750 former Fessenheim employees have been successfully redeployed elsewhere, and almost two-thirds of service providers are enrolled on professional training courses.

France committed to reducing nuclear energy use

The site is being closed as part of a French commitment to reducing nuclear production of electricity to 50% by 2035.

Reaching this target is likely to mean that 14 nuclear reactors will need to close in France, with 6 closing before 3030. This includes the two reactors at Fessenheim.

The closure was originally announced by François Holland when he was president, with the target again confirmed by President Macron during his election campaign in 2017.

Other nuclear plants have also been dismantled in France, such as one at Brennilis in Finistère (Brittany). However no plants of the same type as Fessenheim - which used water pressure systems - have been completely dismantled so far.

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