The first of the two reactors at the Fessenheim nuclear power plant was disconnected from the national electricity grid without any problem on Saturday at 2 a.m., but not without bitterness for the employees and the inhabitants of the small commune of Haut-Rhin.
“The reactor was disconnected around 02:00 in the morning and we must salute the remarkable work of the teams, it was a very emotional moment in the control room”, we said on the side of EDF. “The procedure went without any problem”.
Opposed to the closure of this first reactor, before the shutdown of the second on June 30, employees threatened to disobey and not to apply the procedures allowing the decoupling of the reactor.
However, everything went smoothly for this process, which looked like a maintenance shutdown. Except that this time the reactor will not be restarted, to the chagrin of the employees.
“It is starting to have trouble breathing. It is slowly dying,” tweeted the CGT section of the power plant on Friday around 9:00 p.m., with the photo of a table showing the real-time production of the two reactors. The first in the process of slowing down to 422 megawatts, half an hour after the start of the load drop, the second still operating at full capacity, at 913 megawatts.
Each of the two pressurized water reactors with a theoretical power of 900 megawatts could supply electricity to 400,000 homes.
– “Very difficult to live with” –
When it reached 8% of its theoretical power, reactor n ° 1 was disconnected from the national electricity network.
“For all the shift personnel, that night of shutdown of reactor n ° 1, making the gestures to decouple it definitively will be something very difficult to live with,” explained a union member beforehand.
“There is a very heavy atmosphere at the plant, the employees are on edge,” also said the mayor of Fessenheim, Claude Brender on Friday. They experience “a feeling of revolt (…) the impression of a mess”.
The reactor shutdown operation brought to an end years of turmoil, debate and reports on the fate of the Alsatian power plant, built in the 1970s very close to the border with Germany.
The evacuation of the fuel from the plant will, according to the planned schedule, be completed in 2023. Then must continue the phase of preparation for decommissioning, a process unprecedented in France on the scale of an entire plant which should start on the horizon. 2025 and continue at least until 2040.
For Matignon, the closure of Fessenheim “constitutes a first step in France’s energy strategy which aims at a progressive rebalancing” between the different types of energy, with a progressive decrease in the share of nuclear power – currently 70%, the most significant in the world – and an increase in that of electricity from renewable sources.
But the controversy over the merits of this closure will not stop with the shutdown of reactor 1. Saturday, pro-Fessenheim and anti-nuclear will make their voices heard by posting the same priority, ecology, but with very different arguments.
“The shutdown of this dying plant is a reason for cross-border celebration, but not a reason for triumph”, the radioactive fuel remaining present for several years on the spot, commented the German environmental association Bund, which has opposed for years at this plant and even more since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
– “Euthanasia” –
But for employees and residents of the town, the point of view is diametrically opposed.
Claude Brender denounced “euthanasia”. “We kill a machine that could have run another 20 years” and “we still do not know why”, ranted the mayor Friday evening during a meeting to support employees in the heart of the village.
“Some environmental lobbyists have been able to make Fessenheim their target”, launched for his part the LR deputy of the Haut-Rhin Raphaël Schellenberger, judging the decision to close the 2 sections of Fessenheim “just unbelievable”.
The Minister for Ecological Transition Elisabeth Borne, who came to meet the elected officials in Colmar on Friday, before briefly going to Fessenheim to greet some traders, promised that there would be “no loss of employment”.
It confirmed the will of the State to create in Fessenheim “a center of excellence for nuclear dismantling, based on a + Technocentre + for the recycling of metallic materials”.
Saturday morning, however, local elected officials will brandish a banner at the foot of the power station, demanding that the state not abandon this watered territory for 40 years by the taxes paid by EDF. They fear that hundreds of families with comfortable incomes will leave it.
The elected officials will be followed in the afternoon by pro-nuclear associations which want to “protest against this act of climatic and environmental vandalism”.