Operation begins to switch off France’s oldest nuclear plant

Updated June 30, 2020

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The sun is setting on the Fessenheim nuclear powerplant. — AFP/File
The sun is setting on the Fessenheim nuclear powerplant. — AFP/File

FESSENHEIM: An operation to switch off France’s oldest nuclear plant got under way on Monday, ending four decades of output that built the local economy but also attracted cross-border controversy.

The second and last reactor of the plant at Fessenheim in the east of France — opened in 1977 and three years over its projected 40-year life span — should go offline shortly before midnight, said state-owned power company EDF.

The procedure to finally shutter the plant, four months after the first reactor was taken offline, started hours earlier than scheduled, and will be followed in the coming months and years by the dismantling of the site.

Its closure will be welcomed by anti-nuclear campaigners who for years warned of contamination risks, particularly after the catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima in Japan in 2011.

Then-president Francois Hollande pledged months after Fukushima to close Fessenheim — on the Rhine river near France’s eastern border with Germany and Switzerland — but it was not until 2018 that his successor Emmanuel Macron gave the final green light.

After its disconnection from the grid on Monday, it will be several months before Fessenheim’s reactors have cooled enough for the used fuel to be removed.

That process should be completed by 2023, and the plant is not expected to be fully dismantled before 2040 at the earliest.

The closure threatens the livelihoods of the tiny Alsatian community of 2,500 inhabitants.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020