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Peter Fairley

A View from Peter Fairley

Sarkozy Keeping Nuclear Atop France's Energy Agenda

France’s president announced plans to build a new reactor last week, injecting nuclear energy into the country’s economic recovery plan.

  • February 9, 2009

French president Nicolas Sarkozy was in northern France last week at Flamanville, the construction site of France’s first new nuclear reactor in two decades, discussing plans to commence a second reactor. According to Paris-based daily Le Monde (Google translation here), Sarkozy was also calling nuclear energy a key part of the country’s economic recovery plan. The move further shows how countries are using diverse approaches to shape their energy futures via recovery plans–U.S. President Barack Obama is negotiating with Congress to keep renewable energy atop his plan, and Canada’s latest budget pursues a heavy emphasis on carbon capture and storage.

The who’s-who list of French corporate heavyweights angling for a piece of Sarkozy’s action leaves little doubt that government dollars impact industrial strategy. French state-owned power giant Electricité de France (EDF) is building the reactor at Flamanville using the third-generation European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) design developed by Areva, a French nuclear technology firm. But Sarkozy says building a second EPR will unite EDF and France’s number two player in electricity, GDF Suez. Reuters reported today that French oil and gas firm Total also wants a “double-digit” stake in the project.

Other firms are vying for a piece of Areva after Germany’s Siemens announced last month that it would sell its 34 percent stake in the otherwise French state-owned firm over the next three years. Steam turbine and train manufacturer Alstom has long wanted a stake, according to the Associated Press. Sarkozy said last week that his government is considering how to increase Areva’s ability to finance new projects. (Areva is already building EPRs in China and Finland, has partnerships to build several in the U.S., and last week added a deal to sell as many as six reactors in India, says the AP in this story picked up by the Houston Chronicle.)

Of course, most countries, including France, are hedging their bets. Sarkozy estimated last week that France would have to muster an investment of 90 billion Euros (about $117 billion) to meet an EU requirement that members use 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. Canada’s CCS focus is tempered by investments in energy efficiency and nuclear. The U.S. plan would put at least some dollars in just about all of the above.

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy touring EDF’s reactor construction site at Flamanville.
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