France’s oldest nuclear power station starts shutdown

A reactor at the oldest working nuclear power station in France is to stop operating this Saturday, as the first step in a “new energy strategy”, the government has said.

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The first of two reactors at the Fessenheim nuclear power station (Haut-Rhin, Grand Est) will stop operating at 2h30 on Saturday February 22. It marks the beginning of the total shutdown and closure of the power station, by government decree.

The station will stop operating completely by the end of June. The government decree, published in the Journal Officiel on February 19, states that it “hereby revokes authorisation to operate the Fessenheim nuclear power plant, which is held by [electricity company] EDF”.

The first reactor - which is 900 megawatts, and water cooled - will be shut down gradually from Friday night. The second reactor will stop on June 30.

Removal of waste will begin by summer 2023, while the safe dismantlement of the plant is expected to take until 2040 at the earliest.

The Fessenheim station began operations in 1977, and is the oldest working nuclear power plant in France. Its closure has been expected for almost a decade; in 2011, then-Presidential candidate - and later French President - François Hollande, promised its closure.

A statement from Prime Minister’s office at Matignon said: “This event constitutes the first step in the energy strategy of France, which is aiming to strike a gradual balance between electricity of nuclear origins, and renewable energy, as well as aiming to drop greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production through the closure of coal-fired power stations by 2022.”

MP warns of “consequences” of shutdown

But Raphaël Schellenberger, MP for the Haut-Rhin, said that no government representatives had been present at a recent information meeting about the site closure, and warned of “consequences for the area” as a result of the plans.

These will include the loss of “more than 2,000 jobs”, both directly and indirectly, he said, and cause many qualified workers to leave the area.

Mr Schellenberger has also said that even though he appreciates that nuclear stations must close “at some point”, he does not understand why Fessenheim has been made “the victim, the symbol, of an incohesive energy policy” by the government.

He told public news service FranceInfo: “Why can Fessenheim not work after just 40 years, when the 12 other reactors [in France], which are almost the same age with the same technology, with the same safety levels, can continue for 50 or 60 years?”

The government has announced a €30 million plan to support the closure, but Mr Shellenberger has said that in reality, due to tax arrangements and legal costs, the area will only see €10 million of this.

He said: “[Only] €10 million for the removal of a production tool worth €2 billion, for the elimination of €90 million of purchasing power in the area every is not really up to the task.”

But Matignon said: “The government has worked with local ministers since 2018 to prepare a project for the future of Fessenheim, which was finalised in February 2019. [We renew] the support of the government to the full completion of this project’s actions.”

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