Fessenheim plant to shut by mid-2020

27 September 2019

Units 1 and 2 of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant in eastern France will permanently shut down in February and June 2020, respectively, Secretary of State for Ecological and Solidarity Transition Emmanuelle Wargon said yesterday. Their closure had previously been set to coincide with the start-up of the Flamanville EPR, which has now been delayed until possibly the end of 2022.

Fessenheim's two 880 MWe pressurised water reactors have been in operation since 1977 and 1978, respectively (Image: ASN)

Wargon said the Fessenheim plant - France's two oldest reactors - would end production by the summer of 2020 in two phases. She said unit 1 would close by the end of February, with unit 2 following by the end of June. She was speaking at a meeting of the steering committee of the Fessenheim regional economic development project in Colmar. This aims to initiate projects in the region to counteract the economic and social impact of the plant's closure.

These dates differ slightly from those put forward last February by the then minister for an ecological and solidarity transition, François de Rugy, Agence France-Presse noted. He had mentioned closure dates of March 2020 for Fessenheim 1 and August 2020 for Fessenheim 2.

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 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.

While not calling for the shutdown of any currently operating power reactors, the new policy means that utility 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. EDF would therefore be forced to shut the equivalent capacity - most likely the two reactors at Fessenheim - in order to begin operating the Flamanville unit.

When he was elected, President Emmanuel Macron promised to respect Hollande's target. However, he has said French reductions in nuclear power must be at a pace which allows the country to retain energy sovereignty.

In a November 2018 speech at the Elysee palace to clarify France's energy transition, Macron said 14 reactors of 900 MWe capacity will be shut down by 2035. He said the Fessenheim plant - close to the German border - would close in the spring of 2020.

Under a draft energy and climate bill presented in May this year, France will now delay its planned reduction in the share of nuclear power its electricity mix to 50% from the current 2025 target to 2035.

The loading of fuel into the core of the Flamanville EPR in France was expected towards the end of this year but in June EDF said start-up of the unit may be delayed until the end of 2022 because of necessary repairs to welds in its primary circuit.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News