France mulls halting nuclear plant: officials

31st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

French authorities are considering delaying the building of a new-generation EPR reactor, the pride of France's nuclear power industry, after Japan's quake-induced fallout alert, they said Thursday.

A top official of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), Thomas Houdre, told AFP the body was engaged in "reflection" on possibly suspending the project. "It is not certain. It is one of the possibilities," he said.

ASN head Andre-Claude Lacoste told parliament on Wednesday: "If the question of a moratorium is raised, and we will raise it, it will concern the building of Flamanville 3," an EPR site on the Channel coast.

The freezing of the project at Flamanville, the only nuclear plant currently under construction in France, would enable authorities to assess the risks brought to light by the earthquake damage to the Fukishima plant in Japan.

Lacoste later played down talk of a "moratorium."

"In practical terms it is a question of what can be done to refrain from building such-and-such a part of the power station which could be recalled and modified to improve safety," he said on France Info radio on Thursday.

A powerful earthquake followed by a giant tsunami earlier this month cut the electricity to Fukushima's nuclear reactors, shutting down the cooling system and leading to the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The ASN said Wednesday that French nuclear security had not yet taken into account the kind of accumulation of natural catastrophes that led to Japan's disaster.

The French government last week told the ASN to carry out a security audit at France's 58 active atomic reactors. France is proportionally the world's largest user of nuclear power.

France's Areva company is building an EPR reactor in Finland which has been plagued by delays, allegations of poor workmanship and finger-pointing between Areva and Finnish operator TVO.

The new reactor, which had initially been scheduled for completion in April 2009, is now not expected to be ready until 2012, with normal operations anticipated to begin in the second half of 2013.

© 2011 AFP

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