* Many energy experts say reactor is unnecessary
* Sarkozy says Penly key to export French nuclear know-how
* Socialists say will shut 24 out of 59 reactors by 2025 if
(Adds reaction from green groups)
By Muriel Boselli
PARIS, Nov 25 France will go ahead with a
controversial project to build a 60th next-generation nuclear
reactor, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday, as he stepped
into a heated pre-election debate over France's dependence on
During a visit to Pierrelatte near the Tricastin nuclear
power plant in southern France, the French president said the
pre-electoral pact by the Socialists and Greens parties to shut
24 reactors across France by 2025 was a threat to the country's
industry and the purchasing power of French households.
He reiterated his right-leaning ruling UMP party's will to
power ahead with its nuclear programme and said the proposal to
shut down more than a third of the country's reactors would cost
French consumers 5 billion euros ($6.63 billion) a year.
While the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan in March has
fuelled speculation France would give up its plans to build the
Penly reactor, in northwestern France, the government has
repeatedly denied the project has been ditched.
"We maintain the project to build a reactor in Penly,"
Sarkozy, who has yet to make his candidacy official for the 2012
presidential election, said on Friday.
"Launching new projects in France is an essential condition
to sell our know-how abroad," he said.
Sarkozy first announced the project in 2009 but many energy
experts have said the reactor is unnecessary as France, which
already operates 58 reactors, needs electricity plants which can
be turned on and off easily to respond to peak demand.
A 59th reactor is currently under construction in
Flamanville in northwestern France, and the project is hit by
delays and cost overruns.
"Someone will have to explain to me how we will tell the
Indians and Chinese to buy French reactors after having shut 24
reactors (at home)," Sarkozy said.
With presidential elections looming in April 2012 and
legislative polls shortly afterwards, the Socialist Party and
the Greens struck a deal last week on positions covering a range
of policies, including the divisive issue of nuclear energy.
Both parties agreed to shut France's 24 oldest reactors by
2025 and build no new reactor, marking a U-turn in socialist
Socialist president Francois Mitterrand deployed the French
nuclear energy programme in the 1980s and early 1990s to boost
France's energy independence.
"The swirl of ever more exaggerated numbers makes your head
spin," the green campaign group Greenpeace said on Friday in
reaction to Sarkozy's comments, adding numbers recently quoted
for nuclear-related job losses ranged from 200,000 to 2 million.
"The president and the UMP are pretending to forget the huge
number of jobs which would be created by the dismantling of
reactors in France and abroad, managing nuclear energy waste and
through the development of renewables," it said in a statement.
State-owned nuclear power producer EDF recently
delayed by a few months public consultations necessary to give
the go-ahead for construction of Penly, blaming safety tests
carried out after the Fukushima disaster.
Penly, which would be France's second new-generation reactor
after the one being built in Flamanville, was originally due for
construction from 2012 and set to start production from 2017.
($1 = 0.7536 euros)
(Additional reporting by Marie Maitre; editing by Jason Neely
and James Jukwey)