HomeDocument databaseA Political Decision: The Early Shutdown of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant ... an Approach à la Gribouille

A Political Decision: The Early Shutdown of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant ... an Approach à la Gribouille

  • Published on 18 December 2019
Georges SAPY
  • Fossil fuels
  • Climate
  • CO2 and GHG
  • Nuclear electricity

A Political Decision: The Early Shutdown of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant[1]... an Approach à la Gribouille[2]


RTE (the French Electricity Transmission Network Operator), the entity in charge, by delegation of the State, of balancing electricity production to demand for France, has recently published its supply forecast for the next few years.

In it, we learn that the supply should be enough over the 2019-2020 winter, barring any intense cold spell... But things take a turn for the worse later: during the 2022-2023 winter, the situation requires "careful attention" an understatement in RTE's coded language, meaning there is a high risk of power shortage. Why? Two reasons: the definitive shutdown of the Fessenheim Plant during the first semester of 2020 (after winter), removing 1 800 MW. And, by 2022, the definitive shutdown of 3 000 MW from the five-remaining coal-fired power plants, in compliance with the recently passed energy-climate legislation, whose purpose is, rightfully, to reduce the country's CO2 emissions.

The claim that this "careful attention" requirement is caused by the delay incurred in the construction of the Flamanville nuclear power plant[3] can be immediately discarded: to govern is to anticipate, the possible occurrence of delays should have been taken in consideration, given that this was a first of the kind model built in France.

Outcome: the politically based shutdown of the Fessenheim power plant, which does not rest on any rational motive but results from indecent bargaining for "votes", will, on one hand jeopardize the country's power supply security, as stated by RTE, and, on the other hand, probably impose a delay on the shutdown of one or several coal-fired power plants.

With a twofold impact on the climate: the probable extension of coal-fired power plant operation pending their definitive shutdown; the necessary replacement of the missing 1800 MW from Fessenheim. With what? Mainly with the production from said coal-fired power plants which will be operated more intensively, particularly during the critical periods of the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 winters.  Indeed, it won't be possible to rely only on imports, as RTE acknowledges: "All the European countries have simultaneously embarked on closures of controllable production capacities," thus reducing the security margins associated to electricity imports for France. This has the advantage of being clear.

It's about time, then, in this country, to stop thinking that facts are optional! Facts will prevail, and they will do so more and more harshly as we rely increasingly on the whims of wind and sun for our electricity supply, the more so given that the whole of Europe is set to do the same.

In this context, it is outrageous that certain public agencies, financed by the taxpayer, claim "100% renewable electricity, it's possible!" They consistently omit to specify that such a Utopian dream implies that three conditions be met: a significant decline in electricity consumption, massive electricity imports representing up to one third of French needs (which, of course France's friendly neighbors will gladly provide as soon as France's need arises... while they will simultaneously undergo the same shortages as the French!) and, last but not least, consumers will be kindly asked to consume electricity when there is enough wind and/or sun! They will most definitely appreciate.

Meanwhile the shutdown of the Fessenheim Plant will deteriorate the CO2 emissions performance of the French electricity sector, an unwelcome occurrence, the country already having much to achieve in the mobility and housing sectors whose emissions are on the rise. Great result...


 [1]     (All notes from translator) The Fessenheim nuclear power plant is equipped with two 900 MW reactors whose shutdown has been decreed by law, Unit 1 closing in February 2020 and Unit 2 in June 2020, whereas their technical status would have allowed them to be operated for up to 20 years more.

[2]     Gribouille is a character in French lore: in order to avoid an inconvenience, it opts for a damaging solution, e.g. immersing itself in water to avoid a rain shower.

[3]     Flamanville here refers to the EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) under construction in the district of Flamanville in Normandy. It is a third-generation reactor, its nominal power output will be 1650 MWe.