The board of French utility EDF has approved a compensation package for the closure of France’s oldest nuclear reactor, the 39-year-old Fessenheim nuclear plant, but it delayed making a final decision on the closure until after the presidential election this spring.

Closure of the 1,800-MW Fessenheim plant in northeastern France, near the German border, has been politically contentious. While the move is opposed by trade unions, President Francois Hollande promised to shutter the plant during his 2012 election campaign. France’s parliament in late 2014 passed a bill that supported Hollande’s proposal to slash the country’s nuclear generation share to 50% by 2025 from the current 75%.

That so-called “Energy Transition for Green Growth” law caps nuclear capacity at the current 63.2 GW, which means Fessenheim must close by 2018 so that EDF’s Flamanville 3 EPR can come online as expected during 2018 or 2019.

However, some presidential candidates in the country’s upcoming election scheduled for this April have promised to review the decision to shut down Fessenheim. François Fillon, the current frontrunner in the race, has said he would halt the closure if elected.

EDF’s board on January 24 approved terms of a $527 million compensation package negotiated with France’s government last August for closure costs associated with Fessenheim. The initial fixed portion of that amount will cover anticipated costs for staff retraining, plant decommissioning, taxes, and post-operational costs. The package also includes variable payments based on market prices to compensate for EDF’s revenue shortfalls up to 2041 as a result of Fessenheim’s closure.

In a statement on January 24, EDF stressed that closure of the plant will require a decree to revoke the plant’s operating license at the company’s request. However, that request will be made only as long as the government allows EDF to “proceed with the construction” of Flamanville 3, as well as to continue operation at 1,300-MW Paluel 2. That 1985-commissioned reactor in Normandy has been offline since May 2015 (in March 2016, a steam generator weighing more than 450 tons collapsed during handling, extending the shutdown). The European Commission must also confirm that the compensation package complies with European Union state aid rules, EDF noted.

In late 2016, nearly a third of France’s 58-reactor nuclear fleet was offline as a result of a scandal centering on quality-control issues at manufacturing firm AREVA. Much of the required analysis has since been completed and several units have returned to service. However, questions remain, and a final determination on long-term effects has not been released, as POWER reported in mid-January.

Last week, meanwhile, France’s grid operator Réseau de Transport d’Électricité warned the public that they will need to start taking measures to conserve energy as temperatures plummet or face rolling blackouts. If the voluntary demand reductions aren’t enough, RTE may start to implement “exceptional measures” that include shutting off factories and dimming lights across the country, it said.

 

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)