France to extend life of nuclear plants - minister

PARIS Sun Feb 12, 2012 6:06am EST

PARIS Feb 12 (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to extend the life of the country's nuclear power plants beyond 40 years so the economy can continue to benefit from cheap energy, Industry Minister Eric Besson said on Sunday.

The decision comes after the French Court of Audit said late last month that extending the plants' lifespans was the country's sole option because any investments in new nuclear capacity or increased reliance on other forms of energy would be too costly and come too late.

Sarkozy's decision also coincides with a separate report ordered by Besson on long-term energy plans for Europe's second-largest economy, the definitive version of which is due on Monday.

"The conclusion that I draw from this is that it would be a waste to stop our reactors at 40 years," Besson said in an interview with radio station Europe 1.

Sarkozy made the decision after holding a meeting of France's Nuclear Policy Committee on Wednesday, Besson said.

By the end of 2022, 22 out of the 58 reactors in France, the world's most nuclear-reliant country, will have been in operation for 40 years.

"The president decided to ask all the operators to be ready to extend the life of our reactors beyond 40 years," he said, adding that in the United States the standard lifespan was 60 years.

At the same time, Sarkozy, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy for a second presidential term later this week, favors the development of a range of nuclear plants from the 1,600 megawatt next-generation EPR reactor being built by state-controlled Areva to mid-power plants producing 1,000 megawatts and smaller 300 megawatt reactors.

A leaked version of the study, to be released on Monday, said that extending the life of France's reactors would be a cheaper investment option to 2035-2040 than building any type of new power plant. (Reporting by Yves Clarisse; Writing by Christian Plumb; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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