PARIS Nuclear power will always provide at least half of France's electricity, the country's industry minister was reported as saying in China on Sunday, defying calls by the green arm of the government to exit nuclear altogether.
The ability of the world's most nuclear-reliant country to continue to sell its atomic expertise overseas has been questioned since France vowed to cut nuclear power to 50 percent of its electricity mix by 2025, down from 75 percent currently, and boost renewables capacity.
But Arnaud Montebourg, the French industry minister, insisted that nuclear power will remain a key element of France's energy mix, newspaper Journal du Dimanche reported.
"Nuclear will always make up at least half of our energy (electricity output)," he was quoted as saying during a Franco-Chinese seminar in Beijing on Friday to commemorate a 30-year partnership in the nuclear sector.
"Nuclear energy is a sector of the future," he added.
French energy group Areva is currently building two next-generation nuclear reactors in Taishan in the southern province of Guangdong and is in talks with China to build two other reactors.
China is either building, or planning to build, up to 30 nuclear power plants - the biggest nuclear construction project in the world.
"Talks are still ongoing for the reactors 3 and 4, but those are talks at the political level," France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told TV journalists during the trip to drum up business for French companies.
France's EDF last month signed a deal with Britain to build a 16 billion pound ($26 billion) nuclear plant in southwest England - the first new nuclear plant in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster.
(This story was corrected to fix spelling of Taishan and location of Guangdong in paragraph 6)
(Reporting by Muriel Boselli; Editing by David Goodman)