PARIS France raised the possibility for the first time of pulling out of nuclear power although its energy minister stressed on Friday that this was just one of many scenarios, not the one favored by the government.
Energy Minister Eric Besson announced on radio Europe 1 the launch of a study on Friday on the country's energy mix by 2050, with options including a complete exit from nuclear production, a cut in the share of nuclear to 50 percent and a progressive reduction of total electricity production in France.
"We will study all possible scenarios for what we call the energy mix," he said. "It will be done with total objectivity, in full transparency, without avoiding any scenario (...) including the scenarios of a nuclear exit."
An energy ministry official told Reuters one scenario would consider a total exit from nuclear by 2050, or even 2040.
However, Besson stressed that he favored keeping nuclear's share in France's overall power output at two thirds, compared with 74 percent in 2010.
"(A pullout) is not my conviction, it is not the choice of the government and of the president but at the same time we can't exclude anything," he stressed.
PUBLIC OPINION FAVOURS PULLOUT
In contrast to Germany, which said in May it would withdraw completely from nuclear energy production by 2022, France has been a strong proponent of nuclear power and the government had ruled out dropping it as an energy source.
Although France's deep dependence on nuclear makes a dramatic volte-face a massive task, with a May 2012 presidential election approaching the government may be tempted to suggest that it is considering a possible pullout.
A poll last month showed three quarters of the French people interviewed wanted to withdraw from nuclear energy, against 22 percent who back the nuclear expansion program.
While the center-right UMP party mostly supports the extension of the nuclear program, the opposition Socialist Party has called for a moratorium on new reactors and promised a national debate on energy transition if elected in 2012.
Shares of French electricity maker EDF, which supervises 58 nuclear reactors in France, fell nearly 1 percent after news that France would examine a full exit from nuclear.
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Writing by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Anthony Barker)