France's oldest nuclear power plant at Fessenheim was finally shut down on 29 June with the closure of the 880MWe pressurised water reactor at unit 2. Fessenheim 1 was shut down in February.
The two reactors at Fessenheim began operation in 1977 and 1978 and were already three years beyond their projected 40-year life span.
Although there is no legal limit on the operating life of French nuclear power plants, EDF had envisaged a 40-year lifetime for all second-generation PWRs.
Fessenheim had become a focus for anti-nuclear campaigners after the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan, prompting then President Francois Hollande to promise its closure. However, it was not until 2018 that his successor Emmanuel Macron finalised the decision.
Closure of Fessenheim will leave 56 PWRs in operation at 18 sites, generating some 70% of France’s electricity. The French government has said it would shut 12 more reactors by 2035, when nuclear power must be reduced to 50% of the energy mix under the 2015 energy transition law.
Closure of Fessenheim is necessary before EDF can bring new nuclear capacity online, with the new EPR under construction at Flamanville 3 is scheduled to begin operation in 2022.
The French government will pay about €400m in initial compensation to EDF over four years to cover expenses incurred by the premature closure, including post-operational costs, taxes, dismantling and staff redeployment costs.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on 30 June that nuclear energy remained relevant for France, despite the Fessenhim closure.
“I am a defender of nuclear energy,” Le Maire told BFM TV, adding that he nevertheless wanted France to further develop other areas of energy, such as hydrogen power.
The closure of Fessenheim provokes a pro-nuclear demonstration outside the Paris headquarters of Greenpeace.
The French Nuclear Energy Society (SFEN) has called for the government to establish a monitoring system to measure the climatic, social and economic impacts of Fessenheim's closure in the coming years in order to inform future reactor shutdowns.
SFEN said in a statement: "In light of the current context, it can be said today that the closure of the Fessenheim plant appears to be a decision with terrible consequences for industrial employment, the struggle against global warming, and the resilience of our electrical system."
The Fessenheim plant, located close to the border with Germany, employed about 850 EDF staff and about 350 permanent employees from service companies.
Photo: Fessenheim nuclear power plant was permanently shut down in 2020 (Photo: EDF)