Unions team up for Fessenheim

23 January 2013

Fessenheim (EDF) 460x307
Fessenheim has been supplying 1760 MWe since the late 1970s (Image: EDF)

Five trade unions in France have joined forces to oppose the early closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant as ordered by President Francois Hollande. The country is in the middle of a debate on an 'energy transition'.

The labour groups met last week and emerged with a statement that they 'unanimously denounce' the policy to close the Fessenheim plant, which they said was 'not based on any technical, economic, social or environmental argument.'

Fessenheim hosts France's two oldest operating nuclear units, and sits on the Rhine, which forms a river border with Germany. The plant passed a major regulatory inspection after 30 years of operation and the Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité De Sûreté Nucléaire, ASN) granted EDF a license for a further ten years of generation on condition certain engineering upgrades were carried out. This work was said to be proceeding on schedule.

Nevertheless, Hollande made a promise during an environmental conference to close Fessenheim before the end of his first term. He had been elected four months previously having courted Green support and pledging to reduce the use of nuclear power in France to 50% of electricity generation, compared to today's 75%.

Rejecting Hollande's ideas, the unions stated their 'desire to build together a schedule and method to oppose the closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant.' Towards this end, the national organisations plan to coordinate with a range of local unions and branches to arrange another multi-party meeting on 21 March.

A union of unions
The five groups that signed the joint declaration are:

Confédération générale du travail (The General Confederation of Labour, CGT)

FO Énergie et Mines (Workers' Force Energy and Mines)

Confédération française démocratique du travail (The French Democratic Confederation of Labour, CFDT)

Confédération française de l'encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres (The French Confederation of Management –
General Confederation of Executives, CFE-CGC)

Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (The French Confederation of Christian Workers, CFTC-CMTE)  

Until that date, they will not cooperate with Francis Rol-Tanguy, the interministerial delegate charged with stakeholder relations on the controversial shutdown policy. Rol-Tanguy has already been turned away by workers from the gates of Fessenheim. He has also visited the ASN headquarters in Paris, where head regulator Pierre-Frank Chevet explained the lengthy technical and regulatory processes required before committing a power plant to decommissioning.

When appointing Rol-Tanguy, the French government made its plan clear: Fessenheim is to close 'at the end of 2016' and the government will make sure that 'security of supply is maintained in the region, the site is redeveloped and all jobs are preserved.'

The plant produces 1760 MWe and employs around 800 people, with considerably more joining during maintenance and refuelling outages. An open letter from EDF site directors in September last year said the shutdown would be a 'profound injustice', noting, 'Our plants do not relocate, we live with them with our families integrated into areas that are dear to us.'

France is currently in a period of debate over a potential 'energy transition', which could result in consensus for Hollande's plan to reduce levels of nuclear energy to be made law. The first 'information phase' of the debate ran through November and December last year and a 'public participation phase' will now run until April. Recommendations are to come in May, with a new energy bill publishined in June.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News