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French Nuclear Pullout Would Cost Billions, Lobby Says

Curbing nuclear power in France, as proposed by the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, would cost tens of billions of euros, raise energy prices and add to carbon emissions, a utilities lobby said before May elections.

“We must not entertain the illusion that we can get out of nuclear by relying on energy savings and renewables,” said Robert Durdilly, president of Union Francaise de l’Electricite, a Paris-based industry group with members that include power producers Electricite de France SA and GDF Suez SA.

Socialist candidate Francois Hollande’s proposal to reduce atomic output would cost 60 billion euros ($83 billion) in additional investment, according to a study by the lobby.

France uses atomic energy for more than three-quarters of its needs, the most of any country. The organization examined the outcome of three scenarios in 2030 in which nuclear reactors provide 70 percent, 50 percent and 20 percent of output. Should nuclear provide the lowest proportion, French reliance on power imports would rise and investment would be required to develop renewable and hydrocarbon capacity, according to the study.

After the Japanese atomic disaster at Fukushima in March, opposition politicians and environmental groups have questioned French dependence on 58 nuclear reactors owned by state-run EDF. Hollande has said he favors a reduction in the proportion of atomic power to total energy generated to 50 percent by 2025.

Politics of Energy

France would need to add two further reactors assuming 70 percent of its power came from nuclear plants by 2030, the lobby said. EDF is developing one site in Flamanville in Normandy and has plans for another at Penly, also in northern France.

Slashing dependence to 20 percent would mean halting all the current atomic generators after 40 years of operation, leaving 12 still working in 2030, and would require development of about 40 thermal plants, according to the study. That would cost 112 billion euros on top of the 322 billion euros needed if atomic energy provides 70 percent of the total, the study shows.

EDF’s oldest nuclear generators have been in operation for about three decades. The utility is seeking regulatory approval to operate them for another decade, while preparing to invest in them to further prolong their lives for as long as 60 years.

Employing nuclear for half the power supply would require an extra 60 billion euros and leave 32 reactors operating.

Carbon Emissions

“It’s impossible to get out of nuclear without massive investment in thermal plants,” lobby adviser Jean-Francois Raux told journalists today. Carbon emissions from generation would be multiplied by three should the government reduce the contribution from nuclear to 20 percent of the total.

Demand is expected to rise to 555 to 625 terawatt-hours by 2030 from 488 terawatt-hours last year, depending on the level of energy savings and economic growth. The increase will be driven partly by demand from electric cars and fast trains.

France has criticized Germany’s decision to phase out atomic power by 2022 after Fukushima. Unlike German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who decided in March to shut more than 25 percent of the country’s atomic capacity, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reiterated support for nuclear investment. France should operate its reactors “as long as is needed because at this time there isn’t a substitute,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in an interview on Europe1 radio yesterday.

“We want to avoid decisions that are made out of emotion,” Durdilly said. By maintaining its nuclear plants, France would keep its options open as technology develops.

France, a net power exporter, has in recent years imported increasing amounts of electricity from Europe during cold snaps and heat waves to make up for production shortfalls at home.

“The fundamental political question is whether it is more urgent to move away from nuclear or reduce carbon emissions,” according to the study. “It’s not possible to maintain economic competitiveness and lower emissions without a high level of nuclear in the energy mix.”

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