One year after shutdown, process to dismantle Feisenheim plant is underway
They are leaning on a mobile walkway above the turquoise blue basin in which nuclear fuel cools: A year after the reactors at Fessenheim shut down, EDF technicians are scrambling to prepare to dismantle the site. .
Joystick in hand, an operator controlling a motorized arm, will search the bar containing enriched uranium pellets, about a ton and 4 meters long, into a cell several meters deep.
“It’s a very delicate operation. We handle nuclear, radioactive material, you have to be especially careful,” testifies a fuel engineer to AFP inside the highly secure building.
“Everything happens in a submerged manner: the water represents a barrier against radiation”, specifies this fifty-year-old in his white protective suit. Each operator is equipped with a dosimeter to detect any radiation.
Once confiscated, the fuel is placed in a suitable container which will then be attached to a wagon and transported to the reprocessing plant at La Hague in La Manche.
During the operation of the plant, the operation was carried out once a year, at the rate of renewal of the fuel used. But since the end of power generation at Fessenheim, the pace has accelerated: 15 convoys are planned in 2021, with the first to empty the reactor’s swimming pool, and 16, in 2022, for the second.
“We are within a completely defined time”, rejoices plant director Elvier Charre. “This is one of the major tasks at the moment: to start dismantling, you have to remove the fuel, which represents 99.9% of the site’s radioactivity”.
– Spare parts management –
In the engine room, the other major technical mission of this pre-disintegration phase is taking place: destroying non-nuclear installations, a Titanic project involving 17,000 hours of work.
In this massive building, parts are being inspected for possible reuse. At present, two compressors have been provided at Buge Plant (AIN). A rotor went to the national storage center for EDF spare parts in Oise.
Some components will not be so lucky: even when properly maintained, it is not always profitable to send them hundreds of kilometers in extraordinary convoys. They then end their industrial life in Fessenheim, before being recycled.
“When colleagues send a critical component to another plant, it is a source of pride,” acknowledges CFE-CGC Energy Representative Anne Laszlo. “It’s like a surgeon taking heart to give it to a young person and bring it to life.”
Other maneuvers can be frustrating. “We recently donated a huge rotor to a museum. It is less fun to see the industrial equipment part of the holiday like this, it is a first-class funeral,” underlines the trade union.
Like machines, workers are also slowly moving out of the premises. They were 750 in 2018, there will be less than 400 by the end of 2021, and only around sixty in 2025, the start date of dismantling. So a social support scheme has been implemented.
– “We can eat on the floor” –
“This plan is really our priority,” says Elvire Charre. “In a year, we have found the solution for 80% of our employees. Some have spent their entire careers in Fessenheim, they are very anchored in the field, they have their own family, they have friends, it is not always easy It happens “.
A sign of the agents’ attachment to their profession, most of them opted to join the second site of the French nuclear fleet. A quarter of employees plan to join an EDF Group unit in Alsace, while the last quarter will retire.
Unions recognize the “significant work” provided by management to ensure a professional future for all, even though, for several dozen cases, “absolute uncertainty” remains.
In addition to questions about reclassification, a sentiment dominates: the “sense of injustice” of having an industrial site closed “in excellent condition”. On the outer enclosures, the banners put up during the earlier incidents have not been removed. “The early closure of Feisenheim is a historical mistake,” declared one of them.
“We respect the decision, we follow it, always with professionalism, but it generates frustration”, admits Gerald François, 47, including 16 in the maintenance department. “The facilities, interior or exterior, are amazing, you can eat on the floor. And dissolution gives us more proof every day”.
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