January 5, 2006

France to cut oil use by 2020 with new reactor

By Marguerita Choy

PARIS (Reuters) - President Jacques Chirac announced plans
on Thursday to cut oil consumption in France, including the
launch of the latest nuclear reactor prototype so that French
trains will not use a drop of oil in 20 years' time.

Chirac sealed France's commitment to nuclear power by
announcing the launch of a fourth generation prototype reactor
to be in use by 2020.

France has become the world's second largest nuclear power
producer after it decided after the 1970s oil shocks to reduce
its oil dependence by building a fleet of 58 nuclear reactors.

Chirac also said in a New year's speech that France had to
develop solar energy, electronic and hybrid diesel cars, and
increase production of biomass fuels five times over the next
two years.

"I hope that the agency for industrial innovation will
contribute from this year to the launching of these projects.
The (railway firms) RATP and the SNCF should no longer consume
a drop of petrol in 20 years time," Chirac said.

State-owned nuclear operator Electricite de France has
already launched plans to start up a new 1,600 megawatt (MW)
European pressurized water reactor (EPR) in 2012, the so-called
third generation reactor.

But no new large power plants have been built since 1993
and France still needs to build more new power stations to meet
growing demand and to compensate for aging units, according to
a study by the French grid RTE.

The more sophisticated and supposedly safer fourth
generation reactors, that have a pebble-bed reactor, where
graphite pebbles are filled with particles of uranium dioxide
fuel, are still being developed.

"We will tie up with industrial or international partners
who wish to join the project," Chirac said.

Italy's biggest utility Enel has plans to take a stake in
the third generation EPR project, but a deal has been delayed
as it has yet to iron out the details of the framework
agreement with EDF.

(Additional reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich)