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ENVIRONMENT

France begins shutting down oldest nuclear plant

French state-owned energy giant EDF on Saturday began shutting down the country's oldest nuclear power plant after 43 years in operation.

France begins shutting down oldest nuclear plant
Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

EDF said it had disconnected one of two reactors at Fessenheim, along the Rhine near France's eastern border with Germany and Switzerland, at 2:00 am (0100 GMT) in the first stage of the complete closure of the plant.

The second reactor is to be taken off line on June 30 but it will be several months before the two have cooled enough and the used fuel can start to be removed.

French nuclear power plant is seven years late and costs have tripled

The removal of the fuel is expected to be completed by the summer of 2023 but the plant will only be fully decommissioned by 2040 at the earliest.

Shutting down Fessenheim became a key goal of anti-nuclear campaigners after the catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima in Japan in 2011.

Experts have noted that construction and safety standards at Fessenheim, brought online in 1977, fall far short of those at Fukushima, with some warning that seismic and flooding risks in the Alsace region had been underestimated.

Despite a pledge by ex-president Francois Hollande just months after Fukushima to close the plant, it was not until 2018 that President Emmanuel Macron's government gave the final green light.

“This marks a first step in France's energy strategy to gradually re-balance nuclear and renewable electricity sources, while cutting carbon emissions by closing coal-fired plants by 2022,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said earlier this week.

France will still be left with 56 pressurised water reactors at 18 nuclear power plants — only the United States has more reactors, at 98 — generating an unmatched 70 percent of its electricity needs.

The government confirmed in January that it aims to shut down 12 more reactors nearing or exceeding their original 40-year age limit by 2035, when nuclear power should represent just 50 percent of France's energy mix.

But at the same time, EDF is racing to get its first next-generation reactor running at its Flamanville plant in 2022 — 10 years behind schedule —  and more may be in the pipeline.

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POLITICS

Sweden Democrats threaten government crisis over biofuels obligation

The far-right Sweden Democrats are threatening to push Sweden's three-party ruling coalition into a political crisis as they fail to reach agreement over how drastically to cut the country's biofuels obligation, a key part in its plan to reduce emissions.

Sweden Democrats threaten government crisis over biofuels obligation

The party is claiming that a pledge in the Tidö Agreement calling for the biofuels obligation, or reduktionsplikt, to be cut to the “lowest EU level”, should mean that the amount of biofuels that must be blended into petrol and diesel and Sweden should be cut to close to zero, rather than to about half the current share, as suggested by ongoing EU negotiations. 

“We are being tough in the negotiations because of the power we have as the biggest party in this bloc,” Oscar Sjöstedt, the party’s finance spokesperson told TV4. “There is going to be a change at the end of the year that is going to be pretty significant and substantial, that I’m 99.9 percent certain about, otherwise we will have a government crisis.” 

The Liberal Party is pushing for a much less severe reduction, perhaps to a little more than half the current level, where 30.5 percent of all petrol and diesel must be biofuel. 

“We have signed up to a temporary reduction in the biofuels obligation, and it’s clear that that is what we are going to do, but zero is not an alternative for us,” the Liberal Party’s leader Johan Pehrson told TV4.

The decision to reduce the amount of biofuel in the mix at Swedish pumps has made it much more difficult for Sweden to meet its targets for emissions reductions, putting pressure on Pehrson’s colleague, Environment Minister Romina Pourmokhtari. 

Next Wednesday, Pourmokhtari will have to defend the extent to which her government’s policies have pushed Sweden away from being able to meet its 2045 target of net zero emissions when the The Swedish Climate Policy Council reports on the country’s progress towards its target. 

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