* French opposition energy specialist supports nuclear option
* Mariton says EDF needs all its reactors for spare capacity
* Renewables should be used for transport, not electricity
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, Oct 19 (Reuters) - A string of unscheduled nuclear reactor closures at French nuclear power utility EDF show France needs spare generating capacity instead of phasing out nuclear plants, opposition energy expert Herve Mariton said on Wednesday.
Mariton, an ally of leading opposition presidential candidate Alain Juppe and a prominent energy specialist in the conservative Les Republicains party, also said he saw no reason to reduce the share of nuclear in France’s electricity mix.
French nuclear watchdog ASN on Tuesday ordered EDF to close five more nuclear reactors before year-end to check the resilience of the steel in their steam generators.
EDF now has 20 of its 58 nuclear reactors halted for maintenance or inspection, forcing the country to import the equivalent of the production of about four nuclear plants from neighbouring countries.
Mariton rejected the Socialist government’s plan to close EDF’s ageing Fessenheim nuclear plant when its new reactor opens in Flamanville in 2018, as the country needs reserve capacity.
“The necessary temporary closure of a number of reactors means we need a margin of spare capacity which we do not have today,” Mariton told reporters.
Mariton, who has led several parliamentary reports about the nuclear industry, made a bid to run for president himself, but rallied behind Juppe when he failed to get sufficient support. Juppe is favourite to represent the centre-right in next year’s presidential election.
“We do not want to close Fessenheim. Considering that a larger part of our nuclear fleet may have to face temporary closures, we need Fessenheim and Flamanville,” he said.
He said this did not rule out renewable energy, but said the French answer to a decarbonised world was largely nuclear.
“The issue of renewables in France is not electricity but other forms of energy,” Mariton said, adding France would need to focus more on methanisation and new forms of energy for transport systems.
He said public subsidies should be primarily used to incentivise replacement of fossil fuel in transport rather than to change the electricity power mix.
He said the target in the Socialist government’s energy transition law of reducing France’s reliance on nuclear for power to 50 percent by 2025 from 75 percent today is absurd.
He said it does make sense to study whether the electricity mix in France needs to be rebalanced.
“I do not know whether it should be 50 percent, but we are probably too mono-nuclear, one should not put all one’s eggs in one basket. But there is no reason to do this in a rush,” he said. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Adrian Croft)