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Closing Fessenheim - France's oldest nuclear power station begins shut down

Fessenheim nuclear plant photographed in 2011.
Fessenheim nuclear plant photographed in 2011. ®REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

In service since 1977, Fessenheim - the oldest nuclear power station running in France - will begin the long process of shutting down, with the first reactor to be switched off this Saturday.

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Nearly ten years after former president François Hollande gave a campaign promise to shut it down, the first reactor of the station in Alsace will be switched off at 02h30 local time on Saturday morning, followed by the second reactor which will be shut down on 30 June.

The announcement of the official closure of the site, run by the state electricity provider EDF, was published by the government on Wednesday.

Ten year energy plan

"This is the first step in France's energy strategy, which aims to find a balance between nuclear energy and renewable energy, all the while lowering carbon emissions linked to electricity production, thanks to the closure of coal plants by 2022, " according to a statement from the President's office.

12 more reactors are scheduled to be shut down by 2035 as part of a 10 year energy plan.

Built on the border between France, Germany and Switzerland, the station has been targeted by environmentalists for years who have pointed out the dangers of the ageing plant, and the fact that the region lies on fault lines, susceptible to seismic activity and more recently climate change.

Although groups such as Stop Fessenheim welcome the closure - the process itself poses its own problems.

Closure will take years

The evacuation of the combustible waste linked to the Fessenheim plant will take place between now and the summer of 2023, followed by the demolition of the site which could last until at least 2040.

"It's just one stage, there are many more dangers linked to the closure; for at least three years the combustible nuclear waste will be stocked in decontamination pools which are not in a secure building - it only has a simple metal roof," says the head of the Stop Fessenheim association, André Hatz.

The group is planning a rally and a press conference at the site on Saturday.

But proponents of nuclear power say it makes environmental sense since it produces no carbon dioxide (CO2).

According to EDF, Fessenheim produces electricity for around 40,000 households and, as source of income, it has created some 2000 jobs for the local area.

No job losses expected

Speaking on Wednesday, France's Minister for Ecological and Inclusive Transition Elisabeth Borne maintained "the closure will not lead to any jobs losses."

"There are other plants of the same generation and technology as Fessenheim that are allowed to operate for another ten years," according to Raphaël Schellenberger, a member of the Les Republicans party, and part of a parliamentary commission set up to track the closure of the site.

Around 70 percent of electricity in France is produced by nuclear energy, and the country has the second largest network of plants in the world behind the USA.

 

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