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France

French energy minister vows to close France’s oldest nuclear plant

media France's oldest nuclear power plant, Fessenheim, pictured in March 2011. Reuters/Vincent Kessler

Ségolène Royal affirmed on Friday that the government intends to issue a decree ordering the closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant by next month.

“This decree will be issued, I’ve already asked for it to be drawn up,” the energy and environment minister told French radio RTL.

Her announcement came one day after the board of French state-owned utility giant EDF voted to delay the closure of Fessenheim, the oldest nuclear plant in the country, until the new-generation Flamanville nuclear plant goes online in western France.

EDF’s decision on Thursday angered environmentalists in France as well as neighbouring Switzerland and Germany, who have long called for the plant’s closure.

Royal’s move has been seen as an attempt to make good on President François Hollande’s campaign promise to close Fessenheim. But with the end of his term fast approaching in May, shutting down the plant may not occur until after the president has left office.

However, it remains unclear whether a government decree would effectively result in the plant’s closure, as EDF would have to request its closure beforehand, according to legal sources cited by AFP.

Greens MP Cécile Duflot also expressed doubt regarding the viability of Royal’s promise. “Ségolène Royal is lying,” she said. “It won’t be possible to sign a decree ordering the plant’s closure.”

Conflicting interests

A variety of groups have a stake in the closure of Fessenheim. On the one hand, unions have opposed taking the two Fessenheim reactors offline, citing job losses. On the other, environmental activists have warned of the potential dangers posed by the 40-year-old plant, which is located on a geological fault line.

The German government sided with these activists last year when it called for shutting down the plant, which is close to the German border.

Hollande had called for Fessenheim’s closure as part of a broader strategy to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear power for energy. Some two-thirds of the country’s power is generated by nuclear plants.

France’s presidential candidates have also seized upon the question of nuclear power. Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has called for shutting down all of France’s nuclear plants in order to further develop renewable energy sources, while conservative François Fillon has said he would prolong nuclear plants’ production from 40 to 60 years.
 

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