* French public institute unveils 1st study on disaster cost
* 58 nuclear reactors in France
By Michel Rose
SAINT-PAUL-LES-DURANCE, France, Feb 7 A nuclear
accident similar to the one at Japan's Fukushima reactor would
cost France about 430 billion euros ($580 billion), or 20
percent of its economic output, French nuclear safety institute
IRSN said in a study on the possible financial impact of a
A major disaster damaging one of France's 58 nuclear
reactors and contaminating the environment with radioactive
material would displace an estimated 100,000 people, destroy
crops and create massive power outages, the study said.
"A major accident would have terrible consequences, but we
would have to deal with them because the country wouldn't be
annihilated, so we have to talk about it, however difficult it
is," Jacques Repussard, the head of the public-funded IRSN, said
on Wednesday at a presentation at the Cadarache nuclear research
centre in southeastern France.
The bulk of financial losses would come from damage to
France's image, the institute said. A nuclear accident would hit
exports of French delicacies and the tourism industry, the
world's biggest in terms of visitors, costing France about 160
billion euro ($126 billion), the study said.
"Image costs would be considerable, as high as the
radiological costs," Patrick Momal, the IRSN economist
responsible for the study said.
"Tourism is an important activity for France and direct
costs would not only hit the affected region, but the whole
country," he said. Even if French products such as wine and
agricultural products were not contaminated, consumer fear could
cause sales to plummet.
The study represents the first time a French public
institution calculated the possible economic cost of a nuclear
disaster for the world's most-nuclear reliant nation. It comes
nearly two years after a tsunami smashed into the Fukushima
nuclear plant in Japan in March 2011.
IRSN estimated the Fukushima disaster cost Japan about 200
billion euros ($270 billion). While the costs were immense,
Japan fared better than France would under similar
circumstances, the institute said.
"Winds were favourable to the Japanese. And in Japan,
international tourism doesn't amount to much, international
visitors are mainly business travellers," Momal said.
The IRSN and former World Bank economist unveiled two
disaster scenarios prompting a core meltdown at a typical
900-megawatt (MW) French nuclear reactor.
A "serious" accident, rated 6 on the one-to-seven INES scale
used by the International Atomic Energy Agency and one notch
higher than the Three Mile Island accident of 1979 in the United
States, would cost France about 120 billion euros ($162
billion), or 6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
The consequences - with up to 10,000 people ousted from
contaminated zones - would be "manageable", the IRSN said.
A "major" accident, rated 7 on the INES scale and similar to
the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and Japan's Fukushima,
however, would be a "catastrophe," that would "strongly and
durably traumatise the country," it said.
The health impact from the release of radioactive material
would be severe, the contamination of land would be long-lasting
and neighbouring countries would be affected.
"We have to keep in mind that the probability of such
accidents to happen remains extremely low," Momal said. "But
these estimates help policy-makers put the cost of preventive
measures into perspective."
France's fleet of 58 nuclear reactors is operated by
state-owned utility EDF. After the Fukushima disaster,
the French nuclear safety authority asked EDF to upgrade its
plants in France. EDF said the updates would cost about 10
billion euros ($13 billion).
French President Francois Hollande pledged to cut the share
of nuclear energy in the country's electricity mix to 50 percent
from 75 percent by 2025. He also said he wants to close the
country's oldest plant at Fessenheim, near the German border, by
The worst nuclear accident in France happened at the
Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux nuclear plant in 1980 and was rated 4 on
the INES scale.
($1 = 0.7387 euros)
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Stacey Joyce)