Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant
|Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant|
Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant
|Official name||Centrale nucléaire du Fessenheim|
|Commission date||January 1, 1978|
|Nuclear power station|
|Units operational||2 x 900 MW|
|Nameplate capacity||1,800 MW|
The Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant is located in the Fessenheim commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace in north-eastern France, 15 km (9.3 mi) north east of the Mulhouse urban area, within 1.5 km (0.93 mi) of the border with Germany, and approximately 40 km (25 mi) from Switzerland. Nearly 100,000 people live within 20 km (12 mi) of the plant, which is located in the third most densely populated region in Metropolitan France and in the centre of the European Backbone. As of March 2011, it is the oldest operational nuclear power plant in France.
There have been ongoing concerns about the seismic safety of the plant and, following the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents, on March 21 the local Information and Oversight Commission for the plant called for the seismic risk to be re-evaluated based on a 7.2 magnitude earthquake; the plant was originally designed for a 6.7 magnitude earthquake. The Swiss cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura have also said that they are to going to ask the French government to suspend the operation of Fessenheim while undertaking a safety review based on the lessons learned from Japan. The German state of Baden-Württemberg has called for a temporary closure in line with the 3-month shut down of pre-1981 plants ordered in Germany. On March 29 the Franche-Comté Regional Council went further and voted for the plant to be closed, the first time a French Regional Council has passed such a vote. On April 6 the Grand Council of Basel-Stadt also voted for the plant to be closed as did the council of the Urban Community of Strasbourg on April 12. The European Parliament's Green members are also supporting the closure demands and are referring the matter to the European Commission. Around 3,800 people demonstrated near the plant on April 8; a larger demonstration is expected on April 25. The group Stop Fessenheim have collected over 63,000 signatures through an online petition calling for Fessenheim's closure, and, on April 18, began a 366-day 'fasting relay' outside the préfecture office in Colmar.
The Fessenheim plant has two pressurized water reactors, each generating 900 MWe. Construction at Fessenheim began in 1970 and the plant was commissioned in 1977. It is built alongside the Grand Canal d'Alsace, a canal channelling the Upper Rhine river, from which it draws 2.5 km3 (0.60 cu mi) of cooling water annually.
The plant permanently employs around 700 staff and 200 contractors, and indirectly supports a further 600 to 2,000 people during maintenance operations. The plant contributes around 16,000,000 euro in tax to the various local authorities, including providing the commune of Fessenheim with 70% of its revenue.
In October 2009 the plant's third 10-yearly inspection on reactor 1 began, in advance of a decision on whether the plant can continue to operate for a further decade. A full decision is expected in 2011, but permission to restart reactor 1 in the interim has been given. The second reactor is due to be shut down for inspection from mid April 2011. The local Information and Oversight Commission has asked GSIEN to conduct a parallel independent inspection alongside the official inspection by the Nuclear Safety Authority.
Selected incidents and accidents
- On September 5, 2012, Eight employees working on the nuclear site Fessenheim in Alsace, were victims of an incident. The cause of their injuries was a release of hydrogen peroxide vapor, "following the injection of hydrogen peroxide in a tank," said Europe 1 prefecture of Haut-Rhin.
- On April 10, 2011, operator error led to one of the reactors automatically shutting down. The incident had no further consequences and was rated at 'level 1' on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).
- On December 27, 2009, a 'level 1' incident on the INES occurred when plant matter was drawn into the Essential Service Water System intake, reducing the flow rate, although the flow remained sufficient to avoid endangering the security of the plant.
- On January 24, 2004, the water in the primary circuit water of Unit 1 was contaminated by radioactive resin from a system used to filter out boron, quickly blocking several filters and endangering the integrity of the joints on the pumps. Seven EDF employees inhaled radioactive dust during the replacement of the filters, and another was slightly irradiated during the clean-up the following month. The incident was categorised at 'level 1' on the INES.
Due to its location, the Fessenheim plant is subject to particular risks from seismic activity and flooding, and there is an ongoing debate about the adequacy of its design in these respects.
The majority of the Haut-Rhin département, including Fessenheim, are classified in a zone of moderate seismicity, however the southern third is in a medium risk zone. The most recent earthquake in this zone, with a magnitude 4.7, took place in this southern third at Sierentz in July 1980. The last major earthquake in the region was the 1356 Basel earthquake, estimated to have had a Mw magnitude of up to 7.1.
A report commissioned by the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt, published in 2007, concluded that the previous seismic evaluations undertaken by both EDF and, to a lesser extent, by the Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire (Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute, IRSN) had underestimated the risks involved. In particular, although the location of the fault in the Rhine Rift Valley that led to the 1356 Basel earthquake was sufficiently well known for national and regional purposes, its location was not known precisely enough to evaluate a particular site. Studies conducted by other scientists have, for example, reached different conclusions about which faults might have been involved in the 1356 earthquake, its magnitude (ranging from 6.0 to 7.1 on the moment magnitude scale), and the distance from the fault to the plant (ranging from 2 km (1.2 mi) to 40 km (25 mi) away, compared to the distances of 34 km (21 mi) and 29 km (18 mi) used by EDF and the IRSN respectively). EDF also failed to take into account the possibility of a moderate local earthquake, which may have the potential to do greater damage than one which is larger but more distant, and the report was also critical of some aspects of the RFS 2001-01 assessment requirements. The report found that the design standards in force when the plant was built were similar to those that currently apply to present-day public buildings, the plant had been designed to accommodate movement, but that it was not possible to determine whether or not the safety margins used would be adequate if a more realistic seismic evaluation were to be used.
On March 11, 2011 the local Information and Oversight Commission announced that is was commissioning two independent second opinions, to be delivered as soon as possible, one on 'the safety of the plant in the event of an earthquake of magnitude 7.2, corresponding to the new seismic reference point proposed by the Swiss experts', the other on the 'redundancy of the cooling systems' in case of flooding. GSIEN has been commissioned to produce one of the reports.
Although situated around 8 m (26 ft) below the level of the adjacent Grand Canal d'Alsace, it is not clear whether, taking into account the calculation methods in the 1960s, the design took adequate account the consequences of a breach in the canal. In its initial report following the 1999 Blayais Nuclear Power Plant flood, the Institute for Nuclear Protection and Safety (now part of the Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute) called for the risk of flooding at Fessenheim to be re-examined due to the presence of the canal.
On March 11, 2011 the local Information and Oversight Commission announced that it has commissioned an urgent report on the 'redundancy of the cooling systems' in case of flooding and that another report 'to determine the areas to strengthen to guarantee the safety of the plant in the event of a breach in the canal', which had already started, is expected in June 2011.
The station is built on top of a large aquifer, contamination of which would be very harmful. A concrete slab is built below the reactor in order to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of polluting the aquifer.
Opposition to the Fessenheim plant dates back to the 1970s when its construction was proposed, and in June 1977 the pirate radio station Radio Verte Fessenheim (Radio Green Fessenheim) began broadcasting against the plant.
Although the plant was built with a 40 year operational life, on the plant's 30th anniversary, the anti nuclear group sortir du nucléaire called for the plant's immediate closure. The Tri-national Nuclear Protection Action Group ATPN (Action Tri nationale de Protection Nucléaire), with members from France, Germany and Switzerland is also campaigning for the plant to be closed and in 2008 it unsuccessfully applied to the Strasbourg Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal Administratif de Strasbourg) to order its closure. On March 9, 2011, a further application to close the plant because of the seismic, flooding and other risks was rejected by the tribunal.
A local association called Stop Fessenheim was formed in October 2005 and registered in the Canton of Munster, after having operated informally since 2004.
Despite regional concern over the plant in the aftermath of Fukushima, nuclear power remains popular in the commune of Fessenheim itself, where the plant has brought prosperity and employs many locals.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fessenheim nuclear power plant.|
- Fessenheim, Nuclear Engineering International wall chart, September 1975
- (English) France 24: The nuclear plant that Germans want to shut down - in France (video)