France's Nicolas Sarkozy admits Fukushima nuclear gaffe

Nicolas Sarkozy Mr Sarkozy admitted he had not visited Fukushima, adding there had been an exclusion zone around it

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy has conceded he did not visit Fukushima on a visit to Japan after last year's tsunami, despite saying he had.

Election rival Francois Hollande had queried Mr Sarkozy's claim that he had been to the stricken nuclear plant.

Mr Sarkozy admitted on Friday that he had not. "I'm not an engineer, I don't need to stick my nose in the situation at Fukushima," he said on I-tele.

The future of France's nuclear power industry has become an election issue.

The Socialists have pledged to reduce France's dependence on nuclear energy for its electricity, from 75% to 50% by 2025.

Mr Sarkozy's centre-right UMP government argues that the nuclear industry is good for the country economically, generating employment and exports along with clean, reliable electricity.

'Pioneer in everything'

Mr Sarkozy had told an election rally in Normandy last Friday that he had visited Fukushima with his then ecology minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

Mr Hollande, the Socialist presidential candidate, said on Tuesday that he had checked out Mr Sarkozy's statement and that "he never went there".

French nuclear industry

  • Supplies 75% of electricity
  • Operates 58 power stations
  • Exports both electricity and nuclear technology

"It's the first time in the history of the Republic that an outgoing candidate has described a trip he never made," Mr Hollande said. "He'll have been a pioneer in everything. Even on a trip he never took."

Mr Sarkozy acknowledged on I-tele: "I went to Japan with Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, I met the Japanese authorities, I discussed with the [Japanese] prime minister the situation at Fukushima and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet went there."

He said that he had been making the point that linking what happened at Fukushima to the debate over a nuclear power plant in France was absurd.

"I simply said that at Fukushima what happened was not a nuclear incident - it was a tsunami, with a wave that reached 42 metres in height that demolished the pumping systems that enabled the cooling of the central core, and that to say as a result of Fukushima that you should shut Fessenheim [nuclear plant] in Alsace, that seemed to me to be a particularly remarkable absurdity."

It is not the first such gaffe Mr Sarkozy has made.

In 2009, he posted on Facebook a picture of himself at the Berlin Wall, saying he had chipped away at it with a pickaxe on the day the wall came down.

A caption dated the photo "9 November 1989", but the man who took it said it was definitely from the following day.

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