October 28, 2016 / 6:13 PM / 4 years ago

France avoids nuclear plant closure decision as election looms

PARIS (Reuters) - France has delayed a decision on promised nuclear reactor decommissioning, effectively putting on hold a process that could ultimately be overturned with a change of government next year.

The logo of the Electricite de France (EDF) is seen near the cooling tower at the entrance of nuclear power plant in Civaux, France, October 21, 2016. Picture taken October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

A government investment roadmap published on Friday stopped short of identifying reactors for closure under 2015 legislation that commits France to reducing atomic energy to 50 percent of its electrical power mix, from more than 75 percent currently.

Instead, the Energy Ministry plans leaves it to state utility EDF to issue a strategic review of plants and energy requirements around April of next year.

However, the final decision on whether the reactors are scrapped is a political one.

France goes to the polls in the first round of presidential voting in April, followed by legislative elections in June - meaning the issue looks unlikely to be resolved before a new president and assembly has been elected.

Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, the conservative candidate currently leading the race, has called Socialist President Francois Hollande’s 50 percent target absurd and vowed to scrap it, in common with several other right-wing candidates.

Lawmaker Herve Mariton, a Juppe ally and prominent energy specialist among the conservative Les Republicains, has also rejected Hollande’s plan to close EDF’s ageing Fessenheim plant after a new reactor opens at Flamanville in 2018.

Opinion polls show conservative candidates easily defeating any potential Socialist rivals in the presidential election, which takes place in two rounds, the second due in May.

Environmental group Greenpeace said the French government was failing to implement the 2015 energy law and had betrayed last year’s Paris Climate Agreement to curb climate-warming emissions by not doing enough to support renewable energy alternatives.

In order to meet the 2015 commitment, France would have had to decide on the shutdown of 22 reactors by now, it said.

According to the energy investment plan published on Friday, a decision to close Fessenheim, France’s oldest nuclear plant, will be taken by the end of the year. The plan also pledged to almost double renewable power output to 150-167 terawatt hours (TWh) by 2030.

The plan also seeks to cut nuclear power output by 10 to 65 TWh by 2023.

(Corrects date of legislative elections to June in fifth paragraph)

Reporting by Michel Rose and Bate Felix; Editing by Laurence Frost and Alison Williams, Larry King

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