French protest new nuclear reactor

French plans to build a new nuclear reactor near the port of Cherbourg in Normandy sparked large-scale protests at the weekend, timed to coincide with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Electricité de France, the country’s main electricity provider, plans to build the new generation European Pressurised Reactor in Flamanville near Cherbourg.

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.

In response to the plans, between 12,500 and 30,000 anti-nuclear protestors took to the streets under banners that read “20 years after Chernobyl, stop the EPR nuclear reactor.”

The French Government is considering new nuclear build in the face of rising oil and gas prices. The protestors, from French anti-nuclear movement “Sortir du Nucleaire” and environmental groups, said that the 3bn Euro investment would be better spent on improving energy efficiency and developing renewables.

“This was a very strong turnout, especially considering the location is difficult to get to, and it marks a turning point in the history of French energy policy.

“It proves that people have a strong will to go towards energy efficiency and developing renewable energies,” said Stéphane Lhomme, spokesperson for Sortir du Nucleaire.

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

EDF is to make a final decision on whether to go ahead with the Flamanville plant within three months. If it decides in favour of the project, construction will begin next year and continue through to 2011.

Goska Romanowicz

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