Fessenheim closure decree annulled

29 October 2018

France's Council of State has invalidated the governement's April 2017 decree to repeal EDF's licence to operate the Fessenheim nuclear power plant. The council ruled the decree had not been issued at EDF's request, as required by law.

The Fessenheim plant in eastern France (Image: ASN)

The 2012 election pledge by former French president Francois Hollande aimed to limit nuclear's share of French generation to 50% by 2025, and to close Fessenheim - the country's oldest plant - by the end of his five-year term, which ended in May 2017. 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 2019 or early 2020. 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 on 6 April 2017, 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.

However, three days later the government published a decree in the Official Journal setting out the conditions for closing Fessenheim. It states that EDF's authorisation to operate the plant's two 880 MWe pressurised water reactors would be withdrawn from the day that the Flamanville 3 EPR "enters into service".

By issuing the decree then, the government aimed to ensure that Fessenheim will be shut within the next few years, thereby achieving Hollande's pledge even though he would no longer be in power. In a statement, the then energy minister, Ségolène Royal, welcomed the decree's publication, declaring: "It is said, it is done."

A complaint about the premature publication of the decree was filed by local authorities, including the municipality of Fessenheim, as well as by trade unions.

The Council of State - the highest administrative jurisdiction in France - declared on 25 October that the government had not waited for the formal request by EDF to publish the decree. It has therefore annulled it.

The annulment of the decree is unlikely to influence EDF's decision to retire the Fessenheim units, which have been in operation since 1977 and 1978, respectively. The company has previously said it intends to comply with the requirement to close the reactors when the Flamanville EPR begins operating. However, a new decree - issued at the utility's request - will need to be published closer to their shutdown.

In an information note published on its website on 22 October, the Nuclear Safety Authority said "EDF no longer envisages the operation of the plant's reactors beyond their fourth periodic reviews scheduled for September 2020 for reactor 1 and August 2022 for reactor 2."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News