Areva CEO brings his message about the facts of nuclear energy to the run
Jacques Besnainou, CEO of Areva in the U.S., (left) is running for president of the American Nuclear Society (ANS). He brought his vision of what he would do if elected to Idaho Falls, ID, on Dec 15 where he spoke to the Idaho Section of ANS. It is the largest and most active section in the professional society.
Besnainou began with his view that the facts of nuclear energy are on the side of the renewal of the industry through the nuclear renaissance. Despite an emphasis on a technically complex subject, Besnainou is way too funny to be mistaken for just another corporate suit. He populates his talk with witty asides that, in the role reversal of the decade, nuclear engineers are now heroes and financial wizards are now bums. The French native also said that he suffers a “strong Brooklyn accent.”
In the serious side of his talk to the 60 people attending the ANS dinner meeting, Besnainou laid out his view of “energy security with nuclear power” as the theme of his tenure as CEO and what impels him to seek the leadership role at ANS. The key idea is that energy security for a sustainable world depends on nuclear energy.
He points out the 1973 oil embargo pushed France into massive commitment to nuclear energy. France country now has the cheapest electricity in Europe and very little of it comes from fossil sources. This history drives Areva’s operations.
“Areva’s entire business model is based on carbon emission free energy sources.”
Five stubborn facts about nuclear energy
Besnainou, who is an American citizen, is fond of quoting John Adams, the U.S. 2nd president, as part of a message emphasizing the facts about nuclear energy. Adams said,
Taking the literal meaning from Adams, Besnainou says there are five “stubborn facts” about nuclear energy that need to be brought front-and-center to the attention of the American public.
- Nuclear power provides 20% of U.S. electricity 24 x 7 at 90% capacity
- Nuclear power provides 70% of carbon emission free electricity in U.S.
- Uranium is well distributed throughout the world. No one is going to war over uranium the way we do over oil
- Nuclear energy is competitive relative to natural gas and coal. Climate legislation, which will put a financial penalty on CO2 emissions, will make it even more competitive.
- 5. Nuclear energy supports jobs, Thousands of them are required to build a new reactor. Hundreds are required to run them.
Vision for ANS
During the Q&A session Besnainou was asked to describe his leadership vision for ANS. He said the American Nuclear Society must be more vocal about the facts concerning nuclear energy. It must get engaged in dialog on television across America.
"There's lots of 'green stuff' on TV. Where is the TV coverage of the story about nuclear energy?"
Asked about the Obama administration’s ambivalent views on nuclear energy, Besnainou replied that is it is not enough to leave the industry to fend for itself. He added a note of urgency to his call for rapid and sustained investments in nuclear energy in the U.S.
"We must do this now or we will be losers relative to what China and India are doing with nuclear energy."
He also said that when it comes to making a case for nuclear energy, there is more to it than just carbon emission free energy. The nation’s national security interests are in the mix.
"If we want to control proliferation, we must be leaders in nuclear energy and players in the world export markets for these technologies."
Transparency at Areva as a corporate value
Two decades ago, Besnainou says, the nuclear energy field was a closed world. Because of the cold war, and the threat of nuclear weapons, even civilian nuclear engineers didn't talk about their jobs in public. When Anne Lauvergeon became CEO 10 years ago, she sought to transform Areva into an open organization.
She went so far as to put web cams in the plant at La Hague. “It was boring,” Besnainou says, but it made the point. He said Areva’s commitment to transparency translates into how it operates in this country.
An interesting side story told by Besnainou is that in 2009 Areva invited Greenpeace in France to visit La Hague and take a tour. Initially, the group accepted, but when word got out they were coming, the group cancelled saying it couldn't be seen by the public actually talking with Areva at the La Hague plant. He notes that another interesting fact is that the former heads of Greenpeace in the U.K. and U.S. now support nuclear energy.
“It is now cool to be a nuclear engineer. There are two reasons. The first is the industry's safety record. The second is the sustained rate at which nuclear reactors have generated electricity, usually above 90% on average in terms of uptime.”
Positive political change for nuclear energy
Besnainou said, "U.S. elected officials now recognize energy security in America must include nuclear power. The security of future generations depend on it."
In his view the Obama administration cannot get 60 votes for climate change legislation without Republican votes.
“We need bipartisan support for new nuclear reactors. The reason is there is a 10-year cycle from the initial commitment to build a reactor to having one operating. It takes four years just to get the license. The total period spans more than two presidential terms which creates political risk. There must be a sustained commitment in the U.S. for nuclear energy to address this issue.”
Besnainou praised the Idaho congressional delegation for their support for nuclear energy and the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility. He also highlighted the role of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) "which is re-inventing the future of nuclear energy" through its work on advanced nuclear reactor designs and nuclear fuel testing.
What comes after Yucca Mountain?
The Q&A session then turned to the issue of what to do with spent nuclear fuel. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) successfully spiking future funding for NRC’s license review of Yucca Mountain, Besnainou was asked what his vision is for recycling spent fuel. He said he is an advocate for nuclear fuel recycling.
"Failure to recycle spent nuclear fuel is like buying a six pack of beer, drinking half of one bottle, and then throwing the rest away."
His policy vision for spent nuclear fuel recycling rests on the premise the U.S. must have a clear policy not to continue the "once through" system for fuel.
[ See World Nuclear News "processing of used nuclear fuel" for more information on nuclear fuel recycling.]
Where will the money come from in an era of financial crisis? Besnainou says the U.S. must decide as a matter of policy that it will tap into the waste fund accumulated to pay for Yucca Mountain and use this money to build a recycling capacity to produce new fuel. The money is there to manage spent fuel so it just needs to be used in a different way.
"I am optimistic that it will happen. There is no other solution. Come to France to see for yourself. It works."
Besnainou should know. He headed up an Areva fuel recycling operation for four years.
Update on Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility
The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility expected to be released by the NRC in March 2010. Areva expects the license for facility will be issued in the second quarter 2011. The company has applied to NRC for exemption for early site work on non-safety related systems. The first cascade will spool up in 2014 with full capacity of 3 million SWU by 2017.
The plant will process uranium for U.S. utilities and also support product for exports. For instance, Areva expects to build reactors in the UAE, India, and China, and could supply them with nuclear fuel from the Idaho facility.
Preliminary site work is now underway. There will be 1,000 construction jobs starting in 2011 and 350 permanent jobs to run the plant which will begin supplying product to customers in 2014. A supplier day for vendors is being scheduled for March 2010. Contact Grow Idaho Falls for details and updates.
“Areva's centrifuge technology is owned by Enrichment Technology Corp ETC and is installed as a "black box" at our plants. Areva does not control the enrichment technology. The centrifuges are assembled by ETC employees. The result is that Areva can operate the enrichment plant, but not know how to build the centrifuges from scratch. This is a nonproliferation measure which comes to us from Urenco's European partners and it works.”
Update on Areva EPR reactor
Besnainou said the Areva EPR reactor design certification at NRC is on schedule for completion in 2011. He noted that, "Areva has answered every inquiry (RAIs) on time."
“We will be able to predict their costs for the entire six decade period.”
A key challenge for nuclear energy in the U.S. is that it must revive its supply chain. Besnainou said Areva is building a factory at Newport News, VA, in partnership with Northrop Grumman for manufacturing of nuclear reactor components. It will be operational in four years and will create 500 jobs.
Areva is planning to supply an EPR reactor for the Calvert Cliffs site in Maryland and has predicted it will break ground in 2012.
Besnainou also mentioned some of Areva’s other projects in the U.S. He reported that Areva is building 12 biomass plants in the U.S. and has plans for offshore wind farms similar to one being built in Germany.
The towers will support 5 MW generators and have blades with lengths comparable to the wingspan of a huge jetliner. He said the U.S. great lakes are candidates for these kinds of wind farms.
The image of the whirling blades of a wind farm are a suitable metaphorical image for Besnainou’s quick mind and rhetorical style. He deftly handles a lot of ideas and gets them out quickly to his audience. With a background in science, mathematics, engineering, and business, and being on the sunny side of 50, he’s a great candidate for ANS president.
Prior coverage on this blog
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