Nuclear powerFrance Shuts Down Its Oldest Nuclear Plant

Published 2 July 2020

France gets 70 percent of its energy from nuclear reactors – it has 56 of them (only the United States, with 98, has more). Most of France’s nuclear reactors were built in the late 1960s and 1970s, and they are reaching – and in some cases, have exceeded — the 40-year limit on the safe operation of reactors. On Monday, France took offline its oldest nuclear reactor, and it will shut down 12 more by 2035.

France’s state-owned power company EDF on Monday said that it had shut down the country’s oldest nuclear plant located in Fessenheim in north-east France, 1.5 miles from the German border.

The Fessenheim plant had two nuclear reactors on site. The first was shut down in February this year.

Le Figaro reports that the closing of one of France’s 57 aging reactors was welcome news to critics of nuclear power, but the reaction to it demonstrated the division over nuclear power among green activists.

Critics of the anti-nuclear sentiment among some environmentalists said that phasing out nuclear energy is not the way forward.

Pro-nuclear energy protesters gathered in front of the Greenpeace headquarters in Paris to protest against Greenpeace’s campaign to end the use of nuclear energy in France. “Less nuclear means more coal,” chanted protesters.

France’s strong trade union movement also criticized the closure, noting the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in the industrial Haut-Rhin region, which has witnessed a steady decline in manufacturing and industrial jobs over the last two decades.

Folloiwng the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, France’s then-President Francois Hollande committed to close Fessenheim, but the actual implementation had to wait the election of Emanuel Macron in 2017, who gave his final approval for the closure two years ago.

With the closure of Fessenheim, France now has 56 pressurized water nuclear reactors located in at 18 nuclear plants, generating about 70 percent of the country’s electricity. Only the United States, with 98 reactors, has more (the United States had 104 reactors ten years ago, but following the Fukushima disaster, six where taken offline because they were built too close to seismic fault lines). France is leading other countries by a wide margin in the percentage of nuclear energy in its power consumption.

Macron has pledged to increase France’s energy use of other renewables, and said 12 more nuclear reactors will be shut down by 2035.