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16th Jul 2020

France shuts oldest reactor amid Macron climate pledges

France's oldest nuclear power plant was finally closed on Tuesday (30 June) - after four decades in operation and a long-standing campaign by anti-nuclear activists.

The process to remove the fuel used by the reactors of Fessenheim power plant, which was connected to the grid in 1977, should be completed by 2023 - although the plant is not expected to be fully dismantled before 2040.

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Following the disaster of Fukushima in 2011, then French president Francois Hollande pledged to close Fessenheim power plant, after complaints about safety from both the German and Swiss governments.

However, his successor Emmanuel Macron only finally gave the green light to closure in 2017.

A group of nuclear supporters, meanwhile, demonstrated on Monday against the closure of Fessenheim at the headquarters of Greenpeace in Paris.

According to the French Nuclear Energy Society (SFEN), this shutdown will mean more fossil-fuel-based solutions and additional emissions of around 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

However, France also aims to reduce the emissions from its electricity supply by shutting down its last four coal-fired power plants by 2024, and investing in renewable energies.

Without Fessenheim, France will still have a total of 56 pressurised water reactors at 18 nuclear plants.

In 2012, Hollande committed to reducing France's reliance on nuclear to 50 percent - instead of 75 percent - of all electricity and Macron promised to respect this target when he was elected.

However, the energy and climate bill presented by Macron in May postponed Hollande's ambitious target until 2035.

Although the bill did set up carbon neutrality by 2050 as the main objective for domestic climate and energy action - aligning its national ambition with the European Green Deal.

Macron: €15bn and 146 new proposals

Meanwhile, Macron promised this week (29 June) to speed up France's transition to a greener economy responding to the proposals from the French citizens' convention on climate - a day after a "green wave" saw victories in municipal elections across the country for Les Vertes (the Greens).

"The challenge to our climate demands we do more," Macron told members of the climate convention in a meeting at the Elysée Palace.

The citizens' convention on climate is a French assembly experiment of Macron from last year, which gathers 150 random citizens to formulate ideas to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions.

Macron said he accepted all but three of the 149 recommendations proposed by the citizens' assembly.

Macron rejected the idea of imposing a four percent dividend tax on investments to help finance climate and energy policies as well as introducing a 110km/h speed limit on French roads.

First referendum in 15 years?

Yet, the president announced an extra €15bn to fight climate change over the next two years and said he was ready to call a referendum on revising the French constitution to include climate goals - if the parliament allows it.

Likewise, Macron also supported a referendum on making "ecocide" a crime - referring to any activity that causes serious environmental damage.

Last time French citizens were called to a referendum was in 2005 when they, like the Dutch, rejected a constitution for the European Union.

France's Green party, and its left-wing allies, made large gains in Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Besancon during the second round of local elections on Sunday.

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