A French Nuclear plant on the Atlantic coast. (Photo: Ronald de Hommel)

The most senior and most controversial of French nuclear reactors the Fessenheim 1, in operation since 1977, is in the next few days expected to receive permission to continue operation for another 10 years by the Nuclear Safety Authority of France (ASN), According to an article in the French Daily, Le Figaro. The outdated reactor is located in the Alsace region along the River Rhine. “In the event of a serious accident with even only a partial nuclear fusion its too thin concrete floor could be pierced and the Rhine would be contaminated, all the way to Rotterdam.”

The audit of Fessenheim 1 took place from October 17, 2009 to March 24, 2010. ASN was planning to publish its report in early 2011 but the mobilization of its teams to assist with the accident in Fukushima delayed the release of the results while politically the tensions grew for clarity.

The concrete floor is too thin

In early June, ASN had found that this nuclear power plant in 2010 had been operating at a “satisfactory” level “which is deemed average within the French nuclear system” during a press conference on the “state of nuclear safety and Radiation Protection in Alsace and Lorraine in 2010.”

“EDF, the operator of the plant, estimates Fessenheim presents the same guarantees – the steam generators were replaced, for example – as Tricastin, another French plant that has received authorization to operate up to 40 years,” wrote the French newspaper.

But according to Le Figaro a government source warned: “The reactor vessel of the No. 1 plant was built on a concrete floor which is the thinnest of all of France’s nuclear plants. In Fessenheim, the floor is about a meter thick, against 3 to 4 meters in Fukushima. This floor is located just above the water table of the Rhine. In the event of a serious accident with even only a partial nuclear fusion the concrete floor could be pierced and then ‘the Rhine would be contaminated, all the way to Rotterdam.” He does not rule out the possibility of closing down the plant if a it doesn’t pass a new stress test, which applies to all French nuclear power plants since the Japanese nuclear disaster near Fukishima.

In a report published in June 2010, experts of the Institute of Nuclear safety (IRSN ) had already stressed the need to strengthen the floor. This is expected to be one of the technical requirements that the ASN will probably announce next week. A source close to the audit estimated the work needed would cost around 100 million Euros.



Published by Ronald de Hommel

Ronald de Hommel is a Dutch freelance photojournalist based in Paris, France. He specialises in global social subjects relating to environment, development aid and conflict. He is one of the initiators of Disputed Waters. He works for a wide variety of Dutch and international publications and NGO’s. His work is represented by ANP Photo (Netherlands), Babel-Photo (France, Lightmediation (France) and Nazca Pictures (Italy). Website: www.ronalddehommel.com