September 16, 2012 / 12:50 PM / 5 years ago

EDF denies seeking $2.6 billion for Fessenheim closure

A general view shows France's oldest Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station, outside the eastern French village of Fessenheim, near Colmar, September 5, 2012.Vincent Kessler

PARIS (Reuters) - French power group EDF denied it had requested compensation from the government over its decision to close the state-controlled energy company's Fessenheim nuclear power plant.

The comment followed an unsourced report in the newspaper Journal du Dimanche claiming EDF had asked for more 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) to cover its loss of profit from the closure as well as the cost of investments made to prolong the life of the plant.

"EDF has made no request," a spokeswoman for the company told Reuters on Sunday.

French President Francois Hollande, who took office in May, announced on Friday he would shut Fessenheim in Alsace, near the German border, by the end of 2016, sticking to his election pledge to halt its operations by the end of his mandate in 2017.

The facility, which went into service in 1977, is France's oldest nuclear power plant and has been a frequent focus of safety concerns since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Last week environmental groups called for its early closure after a steam leak at the plant triggered a brief fire alert.

France derives 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear production, more than any other country, and the issue of its nuclear dependency has become particularly sensitive in the wake of last year's Fukushima disaster.

Hollande on Friday confirmed his campaign pledge to cut the country's share of nuclear power in the energy mix to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Fessenheim has been under particular scrutiny due both to its age and location, in an area at risk from both seismic activity and flooding.

Hollande's announcement on the early closure has dealt a blow to the nuclear industry, and drawn criticism from unions which are worried about job losses.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, Bernard Thibault, head of EDF's main workers' union, the CGT, called the decision "rushed" and said it had been made before the country had even started a debate on its energy transition.

Speaking on French television, Labor Minister Michel Sapin said the closure of Fessenheim would actually create jobs as it would take years of specialized work to dismantle the plant.

"It's a major market for the coming years," he told France 5.

He also reiterated assurances made by Hollande that everything possible would be done to avoid job losses at the site.

The government is due to launch a six-month discussion on the issue, that will seek to reshape the way energy is produced, consumed and taxed in France.

($1=0.7606 Euro)

Reporting by Vicky Buffery; editing by Anthony Barker, Hans-Juergen Peters, Gary Crosse

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