After producing electricity generation for more than 40 years, Fessenheim-2 was disconnected from the grid on June 29, some four months after the retirement of its companion reactor, Fessenheim-1 (NN, Mar. 2020, p. 83). The action completes the closure of what had been France’s oldest operating nuclear power facility.
Both Fessenheim units are 880-MWe pressurized water reactors; Unit 1 began commercial operation in December 1977, with Unit 2 going on line in March 1978.
The reason: The premature shuttering of Fessenheim, located in the Alsace region of northeastern France, is the result of a limitation on nuclear power output set by France’s green growth law, passed in August 2015. Under that measure, nuclear generating capacity in France is capped at its current 63.2 GWe, and nuclear’s share of electricity generation drops from today’s 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025. However, under a draft energy and climate bill presented to the Council of Ministers by Minister for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition Francois de Rugy in April 2019, the target date would be pushed to 2035, in order to avoid the construction of gas-fired plants and their attendant greenhouse gas emissions.
Background: Électricité de France (EDF), Fessenheim’s operator, announced on September 30, 2019, that it had submitted an application to the French Nuclear Safety Authority and to the energy minister requesting approval for the termination of operations and the permanent shutdown of both Fessenheim reactors. The submission followed the signing by EDF and the state on September 27 of a protocol agreement whereby France will compensate EDF for the plant’s early closure. According to the terms of the agreement, initial compensation installments to EDF will cover expenses incurred by the closure of the plant (post-operational expenditure, basic nuclear installation taxes, dismantling, and staff redeployment costs), which will be paid over a four-year period following the shutdown. The payments are expected to total nearly $440 million. Subsequent payments in compensation for any loss of earnings—such as income from future power generation based on Fessenheim’s previous output figures—up until 2041 will be calculated “ex post” on the basis of nuclear output selling prices, including observed market prices.
EDF originally announced its intentions to close the plant in April 2017 (NN, May 2017, p. 43)—a date that was meant to coincide with the startup of the Flamanville-3 EPR. Delays to that project, however, forced EDF to continue operations at Fessenheim (NN, July 2018, page 41).