* Says to draw lessons from Fukushima EDF
* Will not delay projects, still eyes deals worldwide
* EDF is world’s biggest single producer of nuclear power
(Adds details from press conference, background)
By Marie Maitre
PARIS, April 21 (Reuters) - France’s EDF (EDF.PA) will go ahead with atomic projects at home and abroad but will draw all the necessary lessons on safety from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, its top management said on Thursday.
In its first press conference in the wake of the world’s biggest nuclear crisis in 25 years, the state-owned utility sought to quell concerns over nuclear safety and called for greater coordination between nuclear operators worldwide.
“Our industry can exist only if it is safe and this obsession with safety is in the genes of our industry and in the genes of this company,” EDF Chief Executive Henri Proglio said.
Shortly before the presentation, Greenpeace militants scaled the facade of EDF’s headquarters near the Arc de Triomphe, and were perched above the glass building’s entrance with a banner bearing the slogan, “Safe nuclear power does not exist”.
Proglio, flanked by energy production chief Herve Machenaud and Dominique Miniere, who supervises EDF’s 58 nuclear reactors in France, said the group had just submitted draft proposals on safety to French nuclear watchdog ASN.
“We’ll draw lessons from what has happened. We’ve done so after Three Mile Island, we’ve done so after Chernobyl and we’ll do it again after Fukushima,” Miniere said referring to the 1979 accident in the United States and the 1986 meltdown in Ukraine.
EDF said it would forge ahead with its projects, in particular the ongoing construction of a 1,650 megawatt next-generation EPR reactor in the Flamanville plant, without waiting for the conclusions of the ASN report.
“Stopping Flamanville today for six months would cost infinitely more than having to make changes on this or that pipe or this or that engineering element,” Machenaud said.
EDF, which vies for contracts in countries such as Britain, and China, will also continue to sell its nuclear expertise abroad, Proglio said.
“We are the first nuclear player, and we want to remain so and increase our international development,” he said.
The French government has asked the ASN to hand in a report by year-end on measures to improve safety in nuclear power plants in France, the world’s most nuclear-dependent country with atomic power meeting 75 percent of its electricity needs.
In its proposals to the ASN, EDF called for efforts on transparency and disaster prevention and said plant operators should keep the upper hand within the nuclear industry.
EDF has called for and obtained from the French government the leadership of the country’s nuclear industry after months of public disputes between Proglio and the head of state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva CEPFi.PA over who was to blame for the loss of a $40 billion deal in Abu Dhabi. [ID:nLDE71K07M]
EDF’s proposals to the ASN gave no details on how much it would have to invest to beef up safety in its ageing fleet.
“It is impossible to say what Fukushima will cost to the French nuclear fleet,” Machenaud said, while Proglio said EDF’s production costs “may go up” as a result of new safety measures.
“I am convinced, though, that we will remain more competitive than others in Europe,” said Proglio, whose group competes with GDF Suez GSZ.PA and Germany’s E.ON (EONGn.DE). EDF’s nuclear reactors, most of which were built in the 1980s, have turned profitable over the decades, allowing French consumers to benefit from prices around a third cheaper than European neighbours.
Editing by Jane Baird