France denies reactor programme halted

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France's energy minister denied Wednesday that a plan to build a second latest generation EPR nuclear power station had been put on hold, as the head of the country's biggest energy firm had claimed.

Energy Minister Eric Besson was reacting after Christophe de Margerie, the boss of oil giant Total, which will own 8.33 percent of the Penly plant, told a news magazine that the construction calendar had been abandoned.

"Contrary to what Christophe de Margerie suggests, the Penly EPR project has absolutely not been blocked," Besson told AFP.

"It's not just because there has been a change or an uncertainty in the calendar that we're drawing up that one can conclude it has been blocked, that there has been a decision to stop it," he insisted.

Besson recalled that President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted this week, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, that France was determined to press ahead with plans to build third generation power plants.

"There's no question of establishing a moratorium on the construction sites in Flamanville and Penly," Besson said.

An EPR is a European Pressurised Reactor -- or an Evolutionary Power Reactor when marketed outside the continent. It is billed as the world's most advanced nuclear power plant but none are yet in service.

Two are under construction in Europe -- in France and Finland -- and two in China, but they have been plagued by construction delays. Sarkozy announced in January 2009 that a fifth would be built in Penly, northern France.

Previous French power plants have all been owned by electricity giant EDF, but Penly is to be held 50 percent by the state-owned firm, with the rest shared by France's Total, Italy's Enel and Germany's Eon.

© 2011 AFP

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