The oldest nuclear power plant in France will no longer produce electricity: the second reactor was disconnected from the national power grid Monday, June 29 at 11 p.m. A final point after years of turmoil, debate and postponement of his judgment.
Commissioned in 1977 on the banks of the Rhine, near Germany and Switzerland, the Fessenheim power plant produced an average of 11 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) each year, or 70% of the electricity consumption of a region like Alsace thanks to two pressurized water reactors, with a power of 900 megawatts (MW) each. Reactor No. 1 was shut down on February 22.
The dismantling of the plant now looks very long: 15 years are planned to dismantle the two reactors, starting with the evacuation of the highly radioactive fuel, which will be completed in 2023 at best. The actual dismantling in France on this scale, should begin by 2025 and last at least until 2040.
"Before, it was really anger, now it is sadness"
For the employees of the site, the moment was trying. Shortly before 11 p.m., around twenty employees met in the parking lot in front of the plant to be present at the time of its final shutdown. The occasion for moving group photos in front of the enclosure doors, where protest banners are still hung, proclaiming "Fessenheim the sacrificed!" or "Early closing is a historical fault".
Philippe Formery regrets a "mess", evokes his "rage", with tears that come to his eyes. He was part of the team that disconnected the first reactor. "Before, it was really anger, now it is sad," says Sébastien Reyne, who has worked at the plant since 1996 and is part of the team of 60 people who will take care of the dismantling. "I needed to come, to live these last moments" between colleagues.
As for the residents of the commune, the pain is shared. The 2,500 inhabitants of this once modest village have lived for decades thanks to the significant economic and fiscal spinoffs of this installation and fear a big economic downturn: no project is officially stopped for the post-Fessenheim period. Closing the plant, while it "is in good working order and has passed all the safety tests", is "absurd and incomprehensible", regrets mayor Claude Brender.
"A step, not an outcome"
French, German and Swiss anti-nuclear companies have celebrated a closure that has been awaited for years. Monday afternoon, anti-nuclear forces organized an outing on a boat sailing on the Rhine. "It is finally the closure of this plant that we have been waiting for so long. However, we have a little triumphant because it is a stage, there are still 56 other reactors to close. We must continue to beat, "said Charlotte Mijeon, spokesperson for Sortir du Nucléaire.
Having decided not to go to Fessenheim itself, to "avoid provocation", a hundred French and German anti-nuclear activists then joined in the late afternoon on a bridge overlooking the Rhine, exactly at the border. They threw a buoy filled with golden glitter into the river, a symbol of nuclear energy thrown into the water.
"We got there, the second Fessenheim reactor is closing today, it is the culmination of 50 years of common struggle between French and Germans to protect our living environment," said Suzie Rousselot of Stop Fessenheim , to the applause.
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