France, which has long relied on reactors to supply the bulk of the country’s electricity, on Feb. 19 announced the imminent closure of the Fessenheim nuclear plant, located on the country’s border with Germany. One of the plant’s two 920-MW pressurized water reactors will shut down within days, with the second taken offline by the end of June, according to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
A statement from Philippe’s office said the shutdown is “the first phase” of France’s energy strategy set out in 2018 by President Emmanuel Macron. The plan calls for closing all coal plants by 2022, while balancing nuclear output with increased generation from renewable sources. Germany, which plans to close its remaining handful of reactors by 2022, has long sought the closure of Fessenheim, which was commissioned on Jan. 1, 1978, and is the oldest operating nuclear plant in France. The facility is the first of France’s 58 operating reactors to be closed under Macron’s plan.
Macron’s plan for France, a 30-year strategy for the country, calls for 14 of the country’s 58 operating reactors to be shuttered by 2035. The country at present receives more than 70% of its electricity from nuclear power; the new plan would cap the amount of electricity from nuclear power at 50% by 2035.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office on Wednesday said of the Fessenheim closure: “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.”
Raphaël Schellenberger, a parliament member (MP) for the Haut-Rhin, a department in the Grand Est region of France, on Wednesday warned of “consequences for the area” near Fessenheim as a result of the planned closure. He said “more than 2,000 jobs” would be lost, either directly or indirectly, and others would leave the area. He said Fessenheim is “the victim, the symbol, of an incohesive energy policy” by the Macron 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 French government has announced a €30 million plan to support the Fessenheim closure. Shellenberger, though, said it is likely the area will only see €10 million. 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 year … it is not really up to the task.”
Philippe’s office countered in a statement: “The government has worked with local ministers since 2018 to prepare a project for the future of Fessenheim, which was finalized in February 2019. [We renew] the support of the government to the full completion of this project’s actions.”
—Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).