June 26, 2018 / 10:54 AM / 4 months ago

Nuclear energy to remain key for France -finance minister Le Maire

* Le Maire’s position contradicts that of Hulot

* France to issue draft energy proposals in July

By Geert De Clercq and Benjamin Mallet

PARIS, June 26 (Reuters) - Nuclear energy will remain a key part of France’s electricity mix, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at a nuclear conference, contradicting Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, who last week said nuclear was leading the country astray.

Le Maire made no comments about ongoing public debates on the share of nuclear in French electricity production - currently at 75 percent and which the government wants cut to 50 percent by 2035 - but he told an audience of industry executives that nuclear was here to stay.

“Nuclear energy remain essential to guarantee France’s competitiveness, security and energy independence over the long term. We can be proud of our nuclear industry,” Le Maire said at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris.

In July, the French government will issue a first draft of its long-term energy programme (PPE) for the 2019-2023 and 2024-2028 periods, with a final version due by the year-end.

The long-awaited text will outline how France will cut the share of nuclear to 50 percent and increase the contribution from renewable energy.

“We will diversify the French energy mix by boosting renewable energy, but we will do this without weakening the nuclear sector,” Le Maire said, adding it was pointless to oppose renewables and nuclear.

On Thursday, Hulot - number three in the French government and one of France’s most popular personalities - said the cost of nuclear energy keeps going up while the cost of renewable energy is falling quickly.

Hulot has repeatedly said that state-controlled utility EDF needs to close several of its nuclear reactors in coming years in order to reduce the share of nuclear in the mix, but EDF has said it has no plans to close any nuclear plants before 2029, other than the ageing Fessenheim plant.

“One of the reasons that EDF is in difficulties is because the nuclear industry, sorry to say it, is leading us astray,” Hulot had said. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Benjamin Mallet; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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