EDF's board of directors yesterday voted against the imminent closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant in eastern France, as demanded by the current government. The company said it intends to comply with previously announced legal requirements regarding the plant's continued operation.
|Fessenheim (Image: EDF)
French President Francois Hollande's 2012 election pledge was to limit nuclear's share of French generation at 50% by 2025, and to close Fessenheim - the country's oldest plant - by the end of his five-year term, which ends in May. In June 2014, following a national energy debate, his government announced the country's nuclear generating capacity would be capped at the current level of 63.2 GWe. It will also be limited to 50% of France's total output by 2025. The French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law was adopted in August 2015. Nuclear currently accounts for almost 75% of the country's electricity production, making closures of power reactors appear inevitable.
While not calling for the shutdown of any currently operating power reactors, the new policy means that EDF would have to close older reactors in order to bring new ones online. The utility is constructing a 1650 MWe EPR unit at Flamanville which is expected to start up in late 2018. EDF would therefore be forced to shut the equivalent capacity - most likely the two reactors at Fessenheim - by that time in order to begin operating the Flamanville unit.
In accordance with French law, a decree is required to revoke the Fessenheim plant's operating licence. This decree is to be issued at EDF's request and will take effect at the same time as the commissioning of the Flamanville 3 EPR.
At a meeting yesterday, the board of directors of EDF instructed chairman and CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy to issue a request for this decree within six months prior to the commissioning of the Flamanville 3 EPR. It also authorised him to sign the compensation protocol agreed between the utility and the government in January no later than the date on which the request for the decree is issued. The board's decision effectively means Fessenheim will continue operating beyond the end of Hollande's term as president.
Lévy said: "The decision of the board, taken in application of the law and respecting the company's social interest, enables EDF, fully committed to the energy transition, to have the nuclear fleet necessary to fulfil its obligations to supply its customers."
In response to the board's decision, France's Ministry of the Environment, Energy and the Sea said it will "legally endorse ... in the coming days" the "inevitable and irreversible" closure of the Fessenheim plant.
The ministry said, "Announced long ago and without any jobs being eliminated, this closure is part of the objectives of diversification of our electricity mix set by the energy transition law, and will enable EDF to strengthen its commitment in the energy transition." However, it noted it is "in the interest" of EDF to "ensure visibility that will prepare the future of the pool of jobs concerned and allocate its investments optimally in favour of the energy transition".
The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) - one of a number of trade unions that has strongly opposed the closure of Fessenheim - welcomed the EDF board's decision. "It would have been heart-breaking to sacrifice, for political reasons, an industrial facility that brings back €1 million a day to the public company and contributes to providing reliable electricity that does not emit greenhouse gases," it said. "Especially since Fessenheim is a nuclear power plant declared safe by the Nuclear Safety Authority and whose post-Fukushima compliance investments have been made, contrary to the counter-truths put forward by the [energy] minister."
Fessenheim's two 880 MWe pressurized water reactors have been in operation since 1977 and 1978, respectively. The plant employs around 800 people, with considerably more joining during maintenance and refuelling outages.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News