French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday defended France's nuclear industry, wading into to an election debate after opposition parties agreed a plan to cut nuclear's share in France's energy mix if Socialist candidate Francois Hollande were to win May's presidential election, reports The Wall Street Journal.
"Our nuclear park is a considerable economic and strategic strength for France. Destroying it would have dramatic consequences," Sarkozy said at a nuclear plant in the south of France.
The debate on nuclear power has gained traction in France after the Japanese Fukushima incident in March led Germany to shut its nuclear plants and Italy to cancel plans to revive the industry after a quarter-century moratorium.
For decades, the nuclear industry has enjoyed bipartisan support in France, which embraced atomic energy in the 1970s in order to reduce its exposure to oil and as a way to strengthen its independence. The country has 58 reactors that provide 75% of its electricity and it is the world's second-largest nuclear operator behind the U.S.
Sarkozy acknowledged the nuclear debate has created big divisions in France, but insisted that winding down France's nuclear production would be disastrous for the economy and even France's sovereignty.
The Socialist Party and the Greens recently agreed to cut nuclear's share in France's energy mix to 50% by 2025, if Hollande wins in May. Sarkozy, who trails Hollande in the polls despite recent improvements in his ratings, is yet to say he will run in Spring elections. But the president is widely expected to stand for re-election and his party is preparing the campaign around him.
"Stopping the development and modernization of our nuclear sector would be a fatal blow to our competitiveness of our economy," Sarkozy said.