MONTREAL - Quebec’s Gentilly-2 nuclear energy plant will produce its last sparks of electricity today, as the plant in Becancourt, Quebec, shuts down forever Friday.

Pauline Marois' PQ government announced the permanent closure and decommissioning a few days after coming to power on September 4.

The decision has been upheld in spite of some protest and opposition.

Hydro-Quebec CEO Thierry Vandal recently reassured employees and union representatives that their expertise would be needed during the next steps and that all union contracts will be respected.

The plant, in operation since 1983, will be decommissioned over the next 18 months.

The undertaking will involve unloading reactor fuel and heavy water as well as disabling various systems.

The site will then be left dormant for 40 years and then the fuel will be removed and the plant completely dismantled around 2062.

The cost of the closure is slated at $1.18 billion over 50 years.

Environmentalists have claimed victory at the announcement of the closure, while those who wanted it to remain open remain concerned about the negative economic consequences for the region.

Jean-Denis Girard, President of the Chamber of Commerce of the Coeur-du-Quebec, fears that many employees will be forced to move to find new jobs, a situation which, in his opinion, will hurt local business and lead to declined enrolment in local schools.

Murielle Masse, a union representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said that jobs might be saved, but not necessarily in the same area.

“The employees have job security but the problem is that they do not yet know where they will be relocated,” she said.

Temporary employees have already been laid off.

Girard would have preferred that the government take more time to make the decision.

“I think it's unfortunate that we have made a decision this fast, without knowing the ins and outs,” he said.

Girard suspects that Hydro-Quebec is unprepared to retrain employees who have only worked in nuclear power.

The impact of the closure of the nuclear power plant will be discussed in committee hearings on 29 and 30 January. The committee will examine the $200 million economic diversification plan to be put in place to compensate for the decommissioning.

-With a file from The Canadian Press