France on Friday evening started shutting down its oldest nuclear power plant at Fessenheim, across the Rhine from Germany, the operator EDF confirmed.
One of the plant's two reactors, first linked to the country's power grid in 1977, was shut down in a process that is to last into early Saturday morning, with the second scheduled to follow suit on June 30.
About 100 protesters, mostly local people and employees at the nuclear power plant, turned out to demonstrate against the shutdown, according to media reports.
The shutdown is the first in a programme to close 14 of France's 58 nuclear reactors by 2035.
The government plans to reduce the proportion of French electricity generated from nuclear plants from over 70 per cent in 2018 to 50 per cent in 2035, while upping the share from renewable energy sources.
At least one new reactor is also under construction, however, and the government is not ruling out building more.
Activists as well as regional officials on the German side of the border have down the years called for Fessenheim to be shut down, fearing the consequences of any accident there.
‘The decommissioning of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant makes Germany safer, too,’ German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said on Friday. ‘We have been campaigning for this step for many years.’ Schulze described the German government's commitment to phasing out nuclear power as ‘rock solid,’ adding that Germany would also campaign for its neighbours to follow the country's lead.
‘Because nuclear power is not a climate saver. It is risky, expensive and leaves radioactive waste behind for thousands of generations. Renewable energies are clearly the better solution,’ Schulze added.
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