French Premier Nicolas Sarkozy says he will not allow political pressure to lead to the closure of the EDF-run Fessenheim nuclear plant in Alsace.

The President responded after Francois Hollande, his Socialist Party rival in an election starting in April, promised to close the site because of safety concerns.

“I will never accept the closing of Fessenheim for political reasons,” Sarkozy said on a visit to the station in eastern France on the Rhine river across from Germany. “Closing it would be a scandal. It would be to the detriment of our industry, to the detriment of our economic independence.”

The fate of EDF’s Fessenheim divides Sarkozy, seeking re-election amid weak poll ratings by pledging to guide the economy through the euro-region crisis, from Socialists who aim to cut French dependence on atomic power.

EDF’s fleet of 58 nuclear reactors are needed to provide cheap power for households and industry, according to the president.

About $800m had been spent in the past five years to improve French reactors, Sarkozy said, adding he would keep investing in nuclear. Replacing output at Fessenheim would cost EUR400m a year or mean covering the local Alsace region with 2,500 wind turbines, he said.

France’s atomic safety authority has ordered EDF and other atomic operators to carry out billions of euros of measures to bolster defenses against extreme situations such as the earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima catastrophe.

The watchdog told EDF it can run Unit 1 at Fessenheim for another decade if its base concrete is reinforced and an alternative cooling source installed. EDF says work has begun.

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