New generation nuclear reactor for Normandy

21st October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 20 (AFP) - France staked its claim to remain a world leader in atomic energy Thursday with the announcement that it would build the first of a new generation of pressurised water nuclear plants at a site on the Normandy coast.

PARIS, Oct 20 (AFP) - France staked its claim to remain a world leader in atomic energy Thursday with the announcement that it would build the first of a new generation of pressurised water nuclear plants at a site on the Normandy coast.

Construction of the EPR (European Pressurised Water Reactor) is due to start in 2007 at Flamanville near Cherbourg on the Cotentin peninsula, with the first electricity being produced five years later, the state-owned generator EDF said in a statement.

Built at a cost of EUR 3 billion (USD 3.8 billion), the reactor will be the first of a so-called "third generation" of nuclear power stations intended to take over from France's existing stock of 19 plants - including 58 reactors - over the next two decades.

France currently generates more than 75 percent of its electricity from "second generation" nuclear installations. The earliest at Fassenheim near the German border went into service in 1977, and their life expectancy is around 40 years.

The "first generation" were the prototypes built in the 1950s and 60s.

While the pressurised water technology does not mark a major innovation, the EPR design, conceived over ten years by Siemens of Germany and the French company Areva, is intended to provide electricity more efficiently and more safely than current models.

According to EDF, the reactor should reduce the risk of accident by ten and its double casing be able to withstand the impact of an aircraft flown by terrorists. The design also means that even if there is a disaster, the reactor core will collapse in on itself to contain radiation leaks.

The EPR reactor should also generate 1,600 megawatts of electricity - compared to 900 for most current reactors - need less regular re-charging, and have a life span of 60 years.

However, opponents of nuclear power say official statements about the safety of EPR are not to be believed. "The EPR reactor offers no greater guarantee against terrorism than any other reactor," said Stephane Lhomme of the Get out of Nuclear collective.

"We are investing three billion euros in a technology that is almost obsolete for political reasons that have no connection with a rational, properly thought-out energy policy," said Greenpeace in a statement.

France's centre-right government took the decision in May to press ahead with the new generation of nuclear reactors, arguing that it is the best response to the likely long-term increase in petrol prices as well as demands for a cleaner environment.

Two other sites, one in northern Normandy and the other in southeast France had been under consideration for the project.

"On the environmental front the reactor reinforces France's pre-eminence in the fight against climate change, and economically it will allow us to ensure supply and limit the effects of a rapid increase in oil prices," said Patrick Ollier, chair of the National Assembly's economic affairs committee.

Development of the EPR is also seen as a crucial way of maintaining France's technological edge in the highly competitive nuclear energy market. Earlier this month President Jacques Chirac was lobbying hard in China for contracts in the country's ambitious nuclear programme.

France also hopes to be chosen as the site for the future International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which aims to develop the creation of energy through nuclear fusion by mid-century. However the bid from the research station at Cadarache in southern France faces stiff opposition from Japan.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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