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France shuts down first reactor of Fessenheim nuclear plant

February 22, 2020

French energy company EDF has confirmed that it has turned off one reactor of its oldest nuclear power plant. The plant, located directly on the border to Germany, has drawn frequent protests in recent years.

Fessenheim nuclear power plant is to close by 2022
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Kuhn

EDF SA, a French energy company, said that it had completed the shut down of one reactor at its oldest nuclear power plant in Fessenheim near the border of Germany. The nuclear power plant's second and last reactor will be shut down on June 30.

The company told media outlets that the 900-megawatt reactor's shutdown began at 8:30 pm on Friday and ended in the small hours of Saturday. The shut down was completed normally, but it was an emotional moment for those in the control room, according to EDF. Around 100 people, including employees, reportedly protested against the shutdown.

German and Swiss officials have long demanded that French energy officials close the aging Fessenheim nuclear power plant, which is located on the border of France near Germany and Switzerland, near Freiburg in southwestern Germany.

Read moreReports: Fessenheim nuclear accident played down by authorities

"The time has finally come," said German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze on Friday in Berlin, adding that shutting down Fessenheim would make Germany "safer."

Schulze also said that Germany would keep lobbying its neighbors to commit to phasing out nuclear power.

"Nuclear power is not a climate savior. It is risky, expensive and leaves behind radioactive waste for thousands of generations."

A 'historic step'

French Energy Minister Elisabeth Borne has called the shutdown a "historic step," as it is the first time one of France's 58 nuclear reactors has been permanently taken off the country's power grid.

France gets about 75% of its electricity from nuclear plants, but many are aging. The country has set a target of reducing its nuclear energy dependence to 50% by 2035 by bringing in more renewable power.

Read moreGermany shuts down atomic plant as nuclear phase-out enters final stretch

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, German environment officials concluded that although German facilities were better prepared for disaster than the Japanese, Germany would revert to a previous policy — briefly overturned by Angela Merkel prior to Fukushima — of shutting down all nuclear power plants within around 10 years.

There are currently six nuclear power plants operating in Germany: Grohnde and Emsland in Lower Saxony, Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein, Isar 2 und Grundremmingen in Bavaria and Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg.

The remaining reactors in Germany are all scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2022.

 wmr/msh (AFP, dpa)