Less than 50 km north of Basel we find the oldest nuclear power station in France, at the village of Fessenheim about a km from the border with Germany. It entered into service in 1977. The concrete containment vessels that surround the reactors at Fessenheim are just a fraction of the thickness of those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, at least one of which was shown to have cracked in the disaster there. The stations twin reactors were built about 10 m below the dike of the canal that runs alongside the Rhine River — the water serves as the station’s coolant — but France’s national utility, which runs the plant, has declined to study the consequences of a break in the embankment. I fully understand that the French ask themselves “Faut-il fermer Fessenheim ?” (Should Fessenham be Closed?). The front-runner in this year’s presidential race, Hollande, has pledged to close the plant if he is elected in May. The present president, Sarcozy won’t !
I suppose that there is no need to tell that German local authorities, and many citizens nearby, want Fessenheim closed and are angry that they have no say in the matter, despite the fact that the station sits just 1.5 km from their border. Switzerland, 40 km further south also wants Fessenham closed.
Maybe I ought to add that since its opening in 1977 the station has had no significant accidents. Does that mean that it is safe? (The design requirements for Fessenheim did certainly not specify that it must resist an (unlikely?) earthquake of magnitude 7 nearby).
The Rhine Graben is a failed rift system of Oligocene age (35.4 million to 23.3 million years ago). It is in fact the finest example of a graben I have ever seen. It formed as a response to the evolution of the Alps to the south and remains more or (I would say rather) less active to the present day. Not that the faults are very active, but a fault always remains a weak zone in the crust, where you may expect earthquakes to occur.