France switches off the oldest nuclear power plant on the Upper Rhine

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“Finally, finally, finally, but far too late”

“Then I became an opponent of nuclear power”

A living piece of Europe

France overslept the energy transition

A speculation

Digital signpost through traffic

Photo: Jürgen Baumeister

The environmental movement on both sides of the German-French border is celebrating the fact that the two breakdown vehicles in Fessenheim in Alsace are now definitely going off the grid

After more than 42 years in commercial operation, the second reactor in Fessenheim in Alsace, the oldest French nuclear power plant, was definitely shut down in the night from Monday to Tuesday. Reactor 1 had already been shut down in February, as Telepolis reported.

The people in the triangle region on the Upper Rhine, from Freiburg im Breisgau via Strasbourg to the Swiss city of Base, l can now breathe freely. Because of Covid-19, you will only celebrate the historical event at decentralized events, such as at a rally at 6 p.m. today at Freiburger Platz in the old synagogue or at the same time in Strasbourg on Place Kléber. Already on Monday evening opponents of nuclear power met on the Rhine bridge in Breisach to near the power plant to celebrate the end.

Already in 2012, the later Social Democratic President François Hollande started the campaign with the promise of reducing the share of nuclear power from 75% to 50% as part of an energy turnaround. Nothing happened, which is why Emanuel Macron’s new promise last year – Fessenheim will be switched off in 2020 – was taken with great caution.

It was not clear under Macron for a long time, as documented two years ago by the resignation of the then Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, for whom “nuclear power is useless madness”. He showed himself powerless against the nuclear lobby.

The highly indebted partial state Electricité de France (EdF), to which the disaster of the state bankrupt power plant builder Areva was put, and thus the risks and costs of the disaster in power plant construction in Finland, finally decommissioned the decrepit kilometer with 434 million euros.

Opponents of the “Sortir du nucléaire” network (opting out of nuclear power) even expect four billion euros due to open enforcement clauses. It is about tax money that is transferred from one state fund to the next for the supposedly cheap nuclear power.

Around 11:30 p.m. it was late Monday night when the shutdown process was initiated. That could actually have happened on Friday, when the reactor shut down again. But the EDF started it up again so that it could be taken out of operation on the scheduled date. “The line of bankruptcies, bad luck and mishaps runs through to the end,” explains Vice President of the Trinational Nuclear Protection Association (TRAS), Axel Mayer Telepolis.

For Mayer, the end is “finally, finally, finally, but much too late”. For the TRAS, however, a “large sub-goal was achieved”, since the GAU danger in the reactor has now been eliminated, which has threatened a million people for decades.

“The two old boxes are finally put away,” explains Mayer, whose life is closely linked to the fight against nuclear power plants. “In the great global human war against nature and thus against ourselves, we slowed down the destruction processes in Fessenheim and achieved a small, important, regional partial success,” he explains modestly.

It is now over with the “constant radioactivity levy in so-called normal operation”. The scandalous Rhine heating for the cooling tower-free nuclear power plant was also over. And it is over that nuclear waste will continue to be produced there, which will shine for a million years and endanger 33,000 generations.

Mayer, who comes from Endingen in the Kaiserstuhl, was “as a young student backing nuclear power back then”. But then he went to occupy a building site against a bleaching chemical power plant in neighboring Markolsheim on the other side of the Rhine.

It was then that I heard critical scientists about the dangers of nuclear power for the first time.

At that time, reporting in the few media was very dedicated to nuclear power. “I then became an opponent of nuclear power,” he recalls, recalling the successes that the environmental movement finally had. With the experience that an “illegal action” in Markolsheim could prevent a dangerous slingshot, they moved to Whyl.

This is a tranquil village, the neighboring community of Endigen, where a nuclear power plant was also planned. But that was prevented just as much by occupying the building site as another in Alsace in Gerstheim or that in Kaiseraugst in Switzerland.

Mayer finally dedicated his life to fighting the destruction of the environment and headed the regional association of the Southern Upper Rhine in Freiburg for the nature conservation organization BUND until the end of the year. The shutdown is now like a gift for his retirement.

“Since the turn of the year I have been retired and back to where I started: volunteering.”

The tri-national aspect of movement is important to Mayer.

The protest started 30 years after the end of the war as the first cross-border project, across the Rhine together with the French.

That was extremely important. It was relatively easy to work across the border, and later also with Switzerland. “It was a living piece of Europe and the dream of a Europe without borders.”

Otherwise there would still be the small nationalisms, as was also shown in the switch-off debate. “Creativity, trinational-pro-European cooperation, non-violence and constructive reasoning” is the movement’s recipe for success, says Mayer. And that certainly includes decades of perseverance.

The fight is not over, however. The “nuclear PR” must be countered, which brings nuclear power as climate protection, which “has long since been refuted. It is still a matter of promoting” the massively combated energy transition “and ensuring that coal is phased out.

“Anyone who wants to earn money by extending the hazardous time of coal and nuclear power plants tomorrow is preventing sustainable energies from happening today.”

In addition, a serious accident was also possible in Fessenheim for three years until the fuel elements in the interim storage pool had cooled down. “They are outdoors and are extremely poorly protected against earthquakes and terrorist attacks,” explains Mayer.

The emergency power supply for emergency cooling is uncertain, which is why a meltdown similar to that in Fukushima is still possible. After that you have to continue to take care of “minor” dangers during demolition. “A” cheap demolition “will not be accepted.

The overall commitment paid off for the environmental movement, even though Fessenheim was able to run for 43 years. But it could have been worse since the life of the kiln was extended by the French Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ASN) beyond the 40 years it was designed for. They are not really protected against plane crashes or earthquakes, and Fessenheim is located in an earthquake zone in the Rheingraben, where there is occasional tremors. The Rheingraben was created over it or Basel was destroyed in the Middle Ages.

The reactors are also below the water line of the Rhine Canal in a flood zone, against which they are insufficiently protected. Fukushima also sends greetings on the Rhine. One block even got out of control for a short time because water had penetrated into unsecured control cabinets.

In the meantime, a kiln had to be switched off even longer because a safety certificate for a steam generator was falsified. Although it can be shown to be defective at the lower end, the ASN subsequently granted it approval.

In the end, however, the movement managed to exert massive pressure on Macron, who agreed to the shutdown without a new nuclear power plant in Flamanville going online. And how he is under pressure on environmental issues was shown in the local elections on Sunday, where the Greens have given him heavy slags in many cities. You will now rule in Bordeaux, Lyon, Strasbourg and Marseille.

So far, France has largely overslept the energy transition because it had opted for an expensive, dirty and inflexible nuclear strategy and had repeatedly dreamed of the renaissance of nuclear energy. Now the country is standing with an unsafe, dangerous and outdated power plant park and every cold winter it faces the blackout and depends on the European drip and the emergency reserves that other countries maintain and pay for.

For this reason, the dangerous electricity from Fessenheim has so far been retained. In the meantime, however, renewable energies have been and are slowly being expanded in France, and the country hopes to be able to compensate for the failure of Fessenheim. Because the commissioning of the “European Pressurized Water Reactor” (EPR) is delayed over and over again, because of ever new problems. Now until at least 2024.

It should have been supplying electricity since 2012. The costs have exploded from the planned 3.3 billion euros to more than 12 billion. When is there a responsible politician in France who realizes that this money should be written off in order not to keep throwing good money at bad things. The EPR is stillborn, a nightmare that can easily be replaced by an energy transition.
(Ralf Streck)

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