EDF Says Nuclear Industry in Difficult Position After Japan

Electricite de France SA Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio said explosions at Japanese nuclear reactors have put the atomic industry in a “difficult situation.”

“We can’t erase the good of nuclear just by looking at the drama of a terrible accident,” Proglio said in an interview on RTL radio today. “It’s a difficult situation for any industry whatever it may be. All airplane accidents create difficulties for the aeronautical industry. It doesn’t end airplanes.”

The utility is ready to send equipment such as robots and detectors to aid Tokyo Electric Power Co. to gain control of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant and has a team of nuclear workers that could also be sent to help, Proglio said. The utility is sending two metric tons of boron to Japan.

EDF operates France’s 58 nuclear reactors that provide the country with more than three quarters of its power production, making the country Europe’s most dependent on atomic energy. Prime Minister Francois Fillon yesterday said that while it would be “absurd” to halt nuclear energy following the Japanese accident, the country’s plants would be inspected to determine how well they would withstand earthquakes and floods.

“Building confidence is now essential for our industry,” Areva SA Chief Executive Officer Anne Lauvergeon said at a parliamentary hearing today. The reactor designer is ready for “extremely stringent” rules for building new reactors in the future.

Aging Plants

EDF will stick to its plan to extend the lifetime of French nuclear reactors, which will cost an estimated 40 billion euros ($55.9 billion), Proglio said, adding aging plants don’t pose a threat as EDF undergoes about 500 inspections by safety authorities annually.

“We have a very high level of safety in France,” Industry Minister Eric Besson said on RMC radio. “Our nuclear reactors are in better shape than we expected.”

A debate in France on the merits of nuclear energy is “inevitable and legitimate,” Besson said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided yesterday to halt seven of Germany’s 17 reactors including two in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where her party is battling to retain its 59-year -hold on the state in a March 27 vote. Polls indicate a neck-and-neck race between the local Christian Democrat Union-led coalition and opposition parties including the anti-nuclear Greens.

The decision is “purely political” and was “made at a moment of dramatic circumstances and electoral climate,” Proglio said. “Nuclear is a formidable source of energy.”

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