France gives nuclear reactor green light

The French government gave the go-ahead for the construction of a new nuclear reactor in Normandy, sparking protests from environmentalists and politicians alike.

The controversial European Pressurised Reactor was finally approved with a decree signed by French Prime Minister Dominic de Villepin on Wednesday. Construction work is scheduled to start by the end of the year on the cliffs near the town of Flamanville in the La Manche region.

Politicians from opposition parties denounced the lack of debate in the lead-up to the decision, rendered particularly sensitive by the approaching presidential elections.

Greenpeace also called the decision a “denial of democratic rights” and threatened to take the issue up in court. 78% of all French say renewables should be developed as a priority and only 19% back the government in its continued support for nuclear energy, according to a recent survey.

“Despite the government’s assurances, the EPR nuclear reactor project has been decided without democratic debate. Signing the decree during the election campaign period reflects yet again methods we thought had evolved – those of a government sold out to the nuclear lobby,” said Frédéric Marillier of Greenpeace France.

“With this decree the government has in the end ignored the opinion of the majority and tried to push through a project questioned by most of the presidential candidates,” he said.

The reactor will generate 1600MW by 2012 if it comes online as planned, and will help test a new technology that could replace France’s existing 58 nuclear reactors when they are decommissioned.

France currently gets 80% of its electricity from its 58 nuclear reactors located in 19 nuclear power stations.

The EPR project has been causing controversy across France for some time. 60,000 protesters came out in opposition to the project last month – one in a series of large scale protests that have been building up since last year (see related story).

Goska Romanowicz

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