September 30, 2022

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A year after the shutdown, the removal of the Feisenheim plant is on track

A year after the shutdown, the removal of the Feisenheim plant is on track

They are leaning on a mobile corridor, a turquoise blue bed, in which the nuclear fuel cools: a year after the reactors in Phesenheim were shut down, EDF technicians are digging to clear the site.

The hand joystick controls the hand, which is equipped with an operator motor, in a cell several meters deep, with a fuel assembly, a bar of about one ton and a length of 4 meters, containing enriched uranium particles.

“It simply came to our notice then. We handle nuclear and radioactive materials and you have to be especially careful, ”the fuel engineer testified to AFP, inside a very safe building.

“Everything happens in a submerged way: water represents a barrier against radiation,” the fifty-year-old said in his white protective suit. A dosimeter is fitted to each operator to detect any radiation.

Once captured, the fuel is placed in a suitable container and then attached to a wagon and transported to a recycling plant in La Hague, La Manche.

During the operation of the plant, the operation was carried out once a year at the rate of renewal of used fuel. But since the completion of power generation in Feisenheim, the pace has accelerated: 15 convoys are planned in 2021, to empty the swimming pool of the first reactor, 16 in 2022, the second.

“We are within the allotted time,” said Elvir Charre, director of the plant. “This is an important function at the moment: to begin removal, you must remove the fuel, which represents 99.9% of the site’s radiation.”

– Spare parts management –

In the engine room, the other major technical work of this pre-removal phase takes place: the removal of non-nuclear installations, the Titanic project involving 17,000 hours of work.

In this spacious building, parts are waiting to be inspected for possible reuse. The Fuji plant (Ain) has got two compressors. The EDF at a Rotor Ois went to the National Storage Center for Spare Parts.

Some components may not be so lucky: even in properly maintained vehicles, sending them hundreds of kilometers away is not always profitable. They then end their industrial careers in Fessenheim, before recycling.

Anne Laslow, CFE-CGC Energy Representative, agrees, “When colleagues send a key component to another plant, it’s a matter of pride.” “It’s like a surgeon giving it to a young man and taking a heart to revive it.”

Other maneuvers are frustrating. “We recently donated a giant rotor to a museum. It’s fun to see part of the industrial equipment leave, which is a first-class funeral,” the unionist underlined.

Like machines, employees gradually leave campus. They were 750 in 2018, less than 400 by the end of 2021, and only sixty in 2025, the date of removal began. So a community support program has been put in place.

– “We can eat on the floor” –

“This project is really our priority,” says Elvir Charre. “In a year, we’ve found solutions for 80% of our staff. Some have spent their entire lives in Phesenheim, they are very anchored in the area, they have their family, they have friends there, it’s not always easy.”

As a sign that the agents were joining their profession, most of them chose to join another base of the French nuclear navy. A quarter of employees plan to join an EDF group company in Alsace, while retiring last quarter.

The unions recognize the “significant task” provided by management to ensure a professional future for all, even though dozens of cases remain “absolute uncertainty.”

Beyond the questions of reclassification, an emotion dominates: the “sense of injustice” of having to shut down an industrial site “at its best”. On exterior fences, banners installed during previous events were not removed. “Early closure of Fessenheim was a historic mistake,” declares one of them.

“We respect this decision, we always agree with the professional, but it creates frustration,” agrees 47-year-old Gerald Franசois, including 16 in the maintenance industry. “Facilities, inside or out, are amazing, you can eat on the floor. Removal gives us extra evidence every day.”

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