PARIS (Reuters) - France's EDF expects extending the life of its nuclear plants to cost up to 860 million euros ($1.1 billion) per reactor, making this the cheapest option for providing power to 2040, according to a draft government report leaked to media.
By comparison, building a new-generation reactor such as Areva's 1,600 megawatt reactor would cost roughly 5 billion euros.
The draft report, published on the French news website Mediapart, finds that extending the lifetime of France's 58 reactors would also be a cheaper investment option to 2035-2040 than building any type of new power plant.
The report is likely to fuel a heated debate on the issue of France's dependence on nuclear power three months ahead of the presidential election.
Commissioned by the government in October 2011, the report will assess possible energy scenarios for France until 2050 and is due to be published in its final form on February 13. A government spokeswoman said it was no way near being finalized.
While the ruling UMP party plans to maintain the country's nuclear share of 75 percent in the electricity mix, the highest in the world, socialist candidate Francois Hollande said he would bring down that share to 50 percent by 2025.
Extending the lifetime of France's nuclear plants would cost 680 million to 860 million euros per reactor, including additional investment to upgrade safety measures requested by the French nuclear safety regulator (ASN) following Japan's Fukushima disaster, the draft said.
French nuclear power operator EDF will need to install flood-proof diesel generators and bunkered remote back-up control rooms at its 19 plants across the country or else face having to shut down some of its 58 reactors, the ASN said earlier this month.
EDF estimated the work would cost close to 10 billion euros.
By comparison, the immediate closure of France's oldest nuclear power plant, Fessenheim in eastern France, would mean a loss of 1.1 billion euros for EDF over the next eight years, rising to 3 billion euros by 2040.
Hollande, currently favorite in the polls, has vowed to shut it down in the next five years if he is elected in May 2012.
If the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix falls to 50 percent, this would shave 0.6 percent off France's GDP by 2030 because of higher electricity prices.
The report also showed nuclear reactor manufacturer Areva had the capacity to produce two EPR reactors per year. ($1 = 0.7625 euros)
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Edited by Muriel Boselli and Jane Baird)