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EDF shuts down France’s oldest nuclear reactor

30 June 2020

EDF has announced that the second reactor at Fessenheim nuclear power plant in France was shut down on June 29. The plant's first reactor was closed at the end of February. The decision to close France’s oldest nuclear plant has been praised by environmentalists, but there are concerns that the closure will have a negative impact on the local economy.

Fessenheim nuclear power plant - Image: Wikimedia / Florival fr
Fessenheim nuclear power plant - Image: Wikimedia / Florival fr

The Fessenheim plant, located near France’s border with Germany and Switzerland, began operating in 1977 and produced around 70% of the energy needs of the Alsace region. The French government has said it would close 14 nuclear reactors by 2035 to diversify its energy mix and reduce its reliance on nuclear energy.

Fessenheim’s first reactor was taken offline at the end of February while the second reactor was shut down on June 29 at 23:00 local time. The nuclear fuel at the plant will be gradually removed over the next three years while the full dismantlement of the plant won’t happen before 2040. 

EDF has said that this is the first time that a pressurised water reactor has been shut down and dismantled. France currently has another 56 pressurised water reactors in operation. Although there is no legal limit on a nuclear power plant’s lifetime, Fessenheim is currently three years past EDF’s expected 40-year life span for the plant.

Environmentalists have criticised the Fessenheim plant for many years saying that it is located in an area prone to seismic activity and flooding. Several safety issues been raised at the plant over recent decades, including cracks in a reactor cover, internal flooding, fuel leaks, and non-lethal contamination of workers. The 2011 Fukushima disaster renewed calls for Fessenheim to be closed in fear that a similar incident could occur.

Locals who have been in support of the plant have said they are upset at EDF’s decision to close the plant which is the main source of jobs for the local economy. In 2017, the plant had over 1,000 employees on site, however just 294 people will now be needed until 2023 for the fuel removal process. Following that, just 60 workers will be required for final disassembly.


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