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French ecology minister Nicolas Hulot resigns

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French ecology minister Nicolas Hulot resigns

Highlights

Brands nuclear energy as 'madness'

Felt 'all alone' on environmental policy

Decision implies conflict over nuclear's future

London — France's ecology and sustainability minister Nicolas Hulot resigned in a radio interview Tuesday, saying the government was not doing enough to close its nuclear industry or promote environmental policies.

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Speaking to France Inter, Hulot said he had failed to persuade the government of the economic and technical "madness" of persisting with nuclear energy, which he said was "useless . . . economically and technically."

The French government is working on a multiannual energy program (the PPE) having lat year postponed to beyond 2025 implementation of a target to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the generation mix to 50%.

The resignation of Hulot was likely to be positive for EDF and French nuclear, analysts at the Royal Bank of Canada said Tuesday.

"France was due at any time to launch its national energy mix strategy for the next 10-20 years which will cover French nuclear life extensions. If Hulot is quitting, one read is that we will see nuclear for longer," RBC said in a note.

It is unclear when the PPE strategy document will be published, it said.

Hulot said he had failed to convince the government to act on a number of environmental issues, had felt "all alone" in pushing for change and did not want to give the impression that his presence in government meant certain standards would be met.

He had not told President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe of his decision to resign, he told the radio station, saying "they perhaps would have tried to dissuade me."

"It's a decision of honesty and responsibility," he said.

The aim of reducing the share of nuclear energy to 50% of electricity production was made law in France's 2015 Energy Transition for Green Growth Act.

The intention was for the 2016 PPE to set out a strategy to achieve this, but in the end the plan called for a modest reduction in nuclear output, from between 10 TWh and 65 TWh by 2023.

At the time Hulot supported system operator RTE's conclusion that a steep decline in nuclear output to 2025 would threaten security of supply, given that the country was already committed to closing its remaining coal plants by 2022.

In July, however, Hulot said PPE plans for the next decade must include a precise nuclear reactor closure schedule, which would be made possible by a massive expansion in renewables.

"No objective must compromise the other," he said. "We must close our coal plants by 2022 at the latest, we must close Fessenheim [France's oldest nuclear power plant] and at the same time we must start shutting down reactors while maintaining security of supply."

France in March launched the consultation on multi-annual energy plans for 2019-2023 and 2024-2028, with the commission's full report due in in the autumn. First guidelines were due this summer, but have not been published.

-- Henry Edwardes-Evans, henry.edwardes-evans@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Fox, jonathan.fox@spglobal.com