France's Hollande softens nuclear closure stance

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 17, 2012 1:28 PM
France's Hollande softens nuclear closure stance

By Muriel Boselli and Benjamin Mallet

PARIS (Reuters) - French Socialist presidential hopeful Francois Hollande will only shut France's oldest nuclear power plant in eastern France during his 5-year term, if elected in May, one of the candidate's spokesmen told Reuters on Tuesday.

Hollande said at the end of November he would only pick what he views as priority issues in a pre-electoral pact by the Socialists and the Green party, which included shutting 24 nuclear reactors by 2025.

Bernard Cazeneuve, member of parliament in the northwestern region of La Manche, said only the decision to shut the Fessenheim plant, commissioned in 1978 and built on seismic ground in eastern France, was still valid.

"We have a clear-cut position...and consequently he (Hollande) says 'I commit to close the Fessenheim plant' and it is the only plant that he mentions, no others," Cazeneuve said.

The proposal to shut nearly half of France's nuclear capacity sparked a heated political debate just months away from the French presidential election.

After Japan's Fukushima disaster last year and Germany's quick decision to quit nuclear, the ruling UMP party has relentlessly repeated its commitment to the carbon-free energy, which France relies on to meet three quarters of its electricity needs.

The closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant, which houses two 900-megawatt reactors, would be shut within Hollande's 5-year mandate if elected but Cazeneuve did not specify when the closure would occur.

"We are in a presidential election: it is therefore the program of the presidential candidate which prevails," Cazeneuve said, adding Hollande was sticking with the target to cut by 2025 the share of France's nuclear energy in electricity consumption to 50 percent, from 75 percent currently.

He did not detail by what this missing nuclear power capacity would be replaced but said the emphasis was to give priority to the development of renewable energy.

"We favor a state that takes strategic decisions to develop industrial sectors (in renewables). Nuclear companies which have made money can allocate part of those funds to a sector that will tomorrow make money," Cazeneuve added.

Renewable energies at the end of 2010 made up some 13 percent of the country's energy mix and France has vowed to bring this level to 23 percent by 2020, a more ambitious target than the European Union's aim of 20 percent.

France first opted for a full blown nuclear energy program with minimal public debate after the first oil crisis in 1974 and continued to support nuclear power even after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Cazeneuve also attacked a move by France at the start of 2011 for its state-owned nuclear companies Areva and EDF to develop with China a medium-sized 1,000-megawatt reactor.

He said such an agreement would mean the Chinese would be able to compete with France due to a major nuclear technology transfer.

"We will have to review those elements. We will not continue to strip down and dismantle French industrial champions," he said.

(Editing by Keiron Henderson)