May 4, 2011 / 1:38 PM / in 9 years

Total says Penly nuclear project on hold-report

* Total chief says Penly discussions frozen

* Energy min denies Penly cast aside, says calendar unclear

* Sarkozy has said France would keep investing in nuclear

* Sarkozy points at “medieval” fears in wake of Fukushima

PARIS, May 4 (Reuters) - Discussions on the construction of a new nuclear reactor in France have been frozen, the head of French energy group Total (TOTF.PA), an investor in the project, told French weekly magazine Challenges in an interview.

“The reflection on the project has been stopped. There used to be a calendar, potential dates, but there are no more,” Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said about the project to build a European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) in the nuclear site of Penly, northern France.

“What happens next will depend on decisions made in other nuclear power plants. Penly is a question about our needs and a political question: how much nuclear power do we want to have at our disposal in France by 2020-2030?” de Margerie added.

A spokesman at Total insisted the company remained committed to investing in the nuclear sector in general, and in Penly in particular, adding that the lack of a calendar of dates did not mean the project had been abandoned altogether.

Penly’s next-generation reactor, which would have been France’s second EPR after the one currently under construction in Flamanville, was originally due for construction from 2012 and set to produce from 2017.

Total has an 8 percent stake in the project, which is due to be managed and operated by former power monopoly EDF (EDF.PA).

But the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan in March has given way to a debate on the use of atomic power in France, the world’s most nuclear dependent country.

French Industry and Energy Minister Eric Besson denied the Penly project had been frozen.

“The calendar may not be precise but the project has not been cast aside,” Besson told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The President of the republic has expressed this very clearly in Gravelines... that it was excluded to impose a moratorium on third-generation reactors,” Besson said, referring to Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit of the Gravelines nuclear plant.

During his visit on Tuesday, Sarkozy said France would continue to invest in the nuclear industry despite what he called “medieval” and “irrational” fears about nuclear safety. (Reporting by Marie Maitre and Mathilde Cru)

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