Plant Operation

Fessenheim / Unit 2 At France’s Oldest Nuclear Station Shuts Downs For Good

By David Dalton
30 June 2020

Closure of 880-MW PWR follows that of identical Unit 1 in February
Unit 2 At France’s Oldest Nuclear Station Shuts Downs For Good
The Fessenheim nuclear power station in eastern France. Photo courtesy EDF.
France’s state-controlled utility EDF has permanently shut down the Fessenheim’s nuclear power unit, which began operation in April 1978 and was the oldest commercial reactor in the country.

The shutdown, at 22:00 local time on 29 June, brings the number of commercial reactors in France’s nuclear fleet to 56.

Fessenheim-1, an identical 880-MW pressurised water reactor was permanently shut down on 22 February 2020.

In September 2019, EDF submitted an application to France’s nuclear regulator ASN and the French government for the closure of the two units at Fessenheim, in eastern France near the border with Germany

EDF said that under an agreement signed with the French government the utility will receive compensation for the early closure of both Fessenheim units, because it is a direct result from a 2015 law on energy transition.

The government will pay about €400m in initial compensation to EDF for expenses incurred by the premature closure, including post-operational costs, taxes, dismantling and staff redeployment costs.

Unconfirmed press reports in France said spent fuel removal is scheduled to be completed by 2023 and the station fully decommissioned by 2040.

Fessenheim’s closure, a promise by then-president François Hollande, was originally scheduled to begin with Fessenheim-1 in late 2016, but was postponed several times. It was not until 2018 that Mr Hollande’s successor Emmanuel Macron gave the final green light.

The retirement of the nuclear station had been initially tied to the start of the Flamanville-3 EPR in Normandy, but regulatory requirements and other delays have pushed back the estimated start-up date for that unit.

French energy plans call for four to six nuclear reactors – including the two at Fessenheim – to be permanently shut down by 2028 and a cap to be placed on nuclear generation capacity of 63.2 GW, roughly where it is today. The French government aims to reduce the share of nuclear power in its electricity mix to 50% by 2035 from the more than 71% currently.

In November 2019, French grid operator RTE called for vigilance on energy supply in view of France’s coal phaseout plans, Flamanville-3 delays, and the retirement of Fessenheim.

Earlier this year the French nuclear energy society SFEN said in a position paper that a commitment by the government to build a series of new EPR nuclear power reactors in France would stimulate the country’s economy as it recovers from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.

SFEN said a new-build programme would have a strong ripple effect on the rest of the economy. In France, each euro invested in nuclear generates €2.5 in the rest of the economy and particularly in areas where nuclear facilities are built, SFEN said.

Press reports in France in October 2019
said the government had asked state-controlled power utility EDF to prepare for a new start for nuclear energy with plans to construct six Generation III EPR 2 units over the next 15 years.

The EPR 2 is the successor to the EPR, which is under construction at Flamanvlle-3 in France, Olkiluoto in Finland and Hinkley Point in England.

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