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France leads the world in the civilian use of nuclear power – almost 80 percent of its electricity is generated with uranium. The person who runs that enterprise is Anne Lauvergeon, chairman of the executive board at Areva, a $15-billion behemoth formed out of state-owned French companies and the former nuclear operations division of Siemens. Areva is involved in everything from reactor design to nuclear waste disposal.

In September, the U.S. division of Areva announced that it would build at least four nuclear plants in a joint venture with Baltimore, MD-based Constellation Energy Group. If the projects go forward, they would be the first new nuclear power facilities commissioned in the United States since the late 1970s.

Freelance writer Spencer Reiss recently interviewed Lauvergeon for Technology Review.

Technology Review: Are we looking at a nuclear boom?

Anne Lauvergeon: Globally we expect between 150 and 250 new reactors to go into service over the next twenty years. About 100 of those will replace older existing units, meaning a worldwide total of 500 to 600 reactors by 2025. Longer term, one big unknown is the possibility of more aggressive carbon-reduction policies. If the world’s twelve leading nations followed France’s example, global carbon emissions would be reduced 20 percent. We may also see broader uses of nuclear power for things other than electricity generation – to produce hydrogen, for instance, and desalinated water.

TR: At $2 billion each, that’s roughly half a trillion dollars in all – do you see the cost coming down?

AL: Nuclear construction costs are only slightly higher than modern “clean” coal plants, and with much lower fuel costs afterward. With standardized and evolutionary reactor designs, stabilized regulation, and good engineering, nuclear is one of the most economic ways to produce electricity. It’s a myth that nuclear is expensive. And that’s without including climate-change costs in the price of energy, which is something we clearly need to do.

TR: How seriously do you take political opposition?

AL: Anti-nuclear activists carry on as though nothing has changed. At a time when China and India are planning reactors on a massive scale and when the planet faces a major climate emergency, arguing that the world should drop nuclear energy becomes less and less convincing.

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