EDF closes Fessenheim unit 1 in eastern France

24 February 2020

EDF has disconnected France's longest serving nuclear power unit -  Fessenheim 1 - from the electricity grid, thus ending the reactor's 42 years of low-carbon electricity production. The unit was removed from the network at 2am on 22 February, as scheduled. The utility said the primary circuit cooling operations had been initiated to open the reactor vessel and unload its fuel. Unit 2 is scheduled for closure on 30 June.

The two units at Fessenheim (Image: EDF)

Nuclear accounts for almost 75% of the country's power production, but former French president Francois Hollande said he aimed to limit its share of the national electricity generation mix to 50% by 2025, and to close Fessenheim by the end of his five-year term, in May 2017. In June 2014, his government announced capacity would be capped at the current level of 63.2 GWe and be limited to 50% of France's total output by 2025. The French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law, adopted in August 2015, did not call for the shutdown of any currently operating power reactors, but it meant EDF would have to close older reactors in order to bring new ones online.

The utility began construction of a 1650 MWe EPR unit at Flamanville in December 2007, with commercial operation originally expected in 2013. The loading of fuel into the core of the Flamanville EPR - hot testing of which was completed last week - is now expected at the end of 2022. EDF must therefore shut the equivalent capacity 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 that 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 in its electricity mix to 50% from the current 2025 target to 2035.

EDF applied in late-September to the nuclear safety regulator, Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, and the minister for Ecological and Solidarity Transition, Élisabeth Borne, to shut the two 880 MWe pressurised water reactors at Fessenheim, which began operating in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Before it submitted its decommissioning application, EDF signed a protocol agreement with the government, according to which the state will compensate the utility.

The initial fixed portion - expected to total about EUR400 million (USD433 million) - will cover the anticipated costs associated with the closure of Fessenheim. This will include such costs as retraining staff, decommissioning the plant, the basic nuclear facility tax and post-operational costs. Further variable payments will be made to reflect EDF's operating income shortfall up to 2041. This will be determined on the basis of market prices and EDF's 900 MWe generation volumes, without Fessenheim, as established over that period.

National grid operator RTE said last week it did not expect the closure of both Fessenheim units this year to impact the security of France's energy supply, despite the delay in commissioning the Flamanville EPR.

"This closure is offset by the commissioning of the combined cycle gas plant in Landivisiau, the development of renewable energies and the commissioning of two interconnections with Great Britain and Italy," RTE said

However, it noted that from 2022, with the closure of France's remaining coal-fired plants and in the absence of commissioning of the Flamanville EPR, extra vigilance would be needed regarding security of supply.

"There is unease around the appropriateness of closing a low-carbon source of production amidst the climate emergency," Valérie Faudon, managing director of the French Nuclear Energy Society, was quoted a saying in Le Monde. "This, in a Europe still very dependent on coal and gas-fired power plants. The decision, which will lead to an increase in CO2 emissions, appears to represent an ecology that is now resolutely out-dated."

She noted, "The Fessenheim power station emits 6g of CO2/KWh, while, on the other side of the Rhine, the German electricity system emits more than 400g of CO2/KWh. The output of the Fessenheim plant will not be replaced by renewable energy, which is already prioritised by the grid, but rather by the production of French or foreign gas-fired power plants. It's worth noting that, as Fessenheim closes, Germany is commissioning a new coal-fired power plant, in Datteln."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News