shutdown of Fessenheim, or the end of a …


The first reactor at the Fessenheim nuclear power plant in Alsace will be shutdown on Saturday. Construction of the oldest nuclear power plant in France had started in 1970, along the Rhine, facing Germany and not far from the Swiss border.

Its two pressurized water reactors, with a power of 900 megawatts (MW) each, were put into service in 1977. Germany holds a participation of 17.5% and Switzerland of 15%, which gives them the right to an equivalent share of production.

Incidents and disputes

In the 1990s and 2000s, minor incidents followed one another: valve not properly closed, fault in the electrical system, microcracks on the cover of a reactor, error in handling by a chemist, water pollution, fuel leak, light contamination from employees or stakeholders…

The Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) denounced in 2007 a “lack of rigor” on the part of EDF in the operation of this plant. French, German and Swiss associations as well as environmental MEPs are asking for its closure.

At the end of 2007, a study commissioned by the health departments of Basel-Stadt and the Jura estimated that the seismic risk had been underestimated during construction.

After Fukushima, tension mounts

The protest intensified in March 2011 after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The cantons of Basel-City, Basel-Country and Jura, the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the Franche-Comté region and the city of Strasbourg request the shutdown of the reactors.

Ten thousand anti-nuclear demonstrators meet in front of Fessenheim on March 20, a 5 km human chain is formed around the site in June. But the intersyndicale is mobilizing against the closure of the site to preserve the 2000 direct and indirect jobs.

In July, ASN estimates that the operation of the plant can be extended by ten years subject to work.

Promise of Holland

On November 19, 2011, an agreement between PS and Europe Ecologie-Les Verts in preparation for the 2012 presidential election provides for the “gradual shutdown of 24 reactors” and “the immediate shutdown of Fessenheim”.

After his election, François Hollande announces the closure of Fessenheim for the end of 2016. Then, he de facto pushes the deadline to 2018, linking the end of the plant to the commissioning of the EPR at Flamanville, a so-called third reactor generation.

The closure decree

On April 9, 2017, the decree authorizing the closure of the power plant was published in the Official Journal. The operating authorization will only be revoked “from the date of entry into service of the Flamanville EPR”, specifies the decree. Appeals are brought by unions and communities.

EDF warns at the end of May 2018 that the closure could be postponed until the summer of 2019 in the face of the prospect of another delay for Flamanville. On October 4, the Minister for Ecological Transition François de Rugy indicates that the Fessenheim calendar could be independent of that of the EPR and that the Alsatian power station “will close during (the) mandate (of Emmanuel Macron), from here 2022 “.

Closed in “summer 2020”

On 22 October, ASN specifies that the two Fessenheim reactors must stop operating at the latest in 2020 and 2022 respectively, because the necessary studies and works have not been undertaken so that they can operate beyond.

Emmanuel Macron announced on November 27 that “the final shutdown” of the two Fessenheim reactors will be “in the summer of 2020”.

On February 1, 2019, François de Rugy signed a “territorial project”, a declaration of intent to support the conversion of the area around the power plant. A Franco-German mixed economy company will pilot several projects for the reconversion of the territory.

400 million euros

The government announced in September that the shutdown of reactor 1 at Fessenheim is scheduled for February 22 and the shutdown of reactor 2 on June 30. EDF will receive compensation of at least 400 million euros from the state for the early shutdown, which anti-nuclear associations dispute with Brussels.

In Basel, it’s a relief: Basel-City health director Lukas Engelberger (PDC) recalls that the cantonal government has always clearly demanded the closure of the Fessenheim plant. He said he was very satisfied with the shutdown of the first reactor on Saturday.

According to Isaac Reber (Greens), director of the cantonal environment department of Basel-Country, the safety of the population in the region will be significantly improved.

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