France, Japan join forces for larger share of nuclear market

TOKYO, June 7 Fri Jun 7, 2013 3:32am EDT

TOKYO, June 7 (Reuters) - Japan and France on Friday agreed to boost nuclear cooperation to secure a larger share of global atomic energy markets as Tokyo's pro-nuclear government looks to restart reactors despite public unease in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The agreement comes hot on the heels of a $22 billion deal struck in May between Japanese and French nuclear giants to build Turkey's second nuclear power plant.

Both agreements have the strong support of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been touting Japan's nuclear safety standards on trips overseas, even as the wrecked nuclear plant in Fukushima has suffered a spate of radioactive leaks and remains in a precarious state.

"When it comes to atomic power plants, we will respond to expectations that Japanese nuclear technology will help raise global safety standards," said Abe during a joint news conference with the French President Francois Hollande.

"I believe that Japan and France are the world's best partners in this respect," said Abe.

Hollande is on a three-day visit to Tokyo accompanied by several cabinet ministers and more than 30 executives, including the head of France's nuclear energy giant Areva, Luc Oursel.

As well as agreeing to boost the exports of nuclear technology, Tokyo and Paris confirmed plans to cooperate on Japan's troubled nuclear spent fuel reprocessing and fast-breeder projects, but no further details were provided in the joint statement released at the news conference.

Reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 shook the industry and raised questions over whether atomic energy was safe.

Tens of thousands of anti-nuclear protesters marched in Tokyo on Sunday shouting slogans against Abe's plans to restart nuclear reactors deemed safe by Japan's new nuclear watchdog, which was set up after the Fukushima catastrophe highlighted oversight failures by its predecessor.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co, on Wednesday found a new leak in storage tanks that hold contaminated water. On Tuesday, Tepco said it had detected radioactive caesium in groundwater flowing into the plant -- overturning an early finding that contamination was negligible.

A string of leaks and power outages plagued the facility in March and April and the plant's still precarious state serves as a reminder of the poor management of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, experts say. (Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Michael Perry)