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French Industry Minister Rejects Poll Backing Nuclear Withdrawal

French Industry Minister Eric Besson rejected the findings of an opinion poll that called for the gradual phasing-out of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors.

“I don’t think it would be a good thing for the French, for our economy, for employment and for our competitiveness and our purchasing power” if the country abandoned atomic power, Besson told RMC radio today. “What would be the cost in terms of energy independence?”

France, which depends on nuclear power for about three quarters of its electricity, should “progressively” exit from atomic energy, according to 60 percent of respondents to a Viavoice opinion poll published in today’s Liberation newspaper. Thirty-five percent are against the change, the newspaper said.

Surveys in France since reactor meltdowns in Japan in March have indicated mixed support for the future of an industry that employs an estimated 200,000 people including workers at Electricite de France SA’s reactors. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced a plan to switch off the country’s atomic reactors by 2022 while Swiss lawmakers this month voted to back the government’s plan to phase out the energy by 2034. Italians voted in a referendum this month to ban nuclear power.

Fifty-one percent of respondents in an Ifop survey commissioned by the European Green party published March 21 said France’s reactors, along with its nuclear energy policy, should be phased out in the next 25 years. Just 19 percent wanted a more rapid pullout.

Higher Costs

A TNS Sofres poll organized by Paris-based Electricite de France SA, operator of the country’s reactors, found that 55 percent of those surveyed were against abandoning nuclear energy, even as 68 percent said an accident like Fukushima was possible in France.

“I don’t think the same French who are saying they want to get out of nuclear would accept to pay 50 or 60 percent more for their power,” Besson said today. “For a generation, we don’t have another solution to produce low cost energy.”

Besson said renewable energies made from wind turbines and solar panels can be used intermittently when weather conditions permit energy production, though only nuclear, large hydroelectric and thermal installations can provide reliable base power.

“The key is to discover how to store” solar energy, he said. “Imagine having in your car a giant battery that would allow you to store solar energy, I would be the first to say let’s get out of nuclear.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at tpatel2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net

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