published Friday, January 30th, 2009

Chattanooga: Nuclear power touted as solution to U.S. energy woes

The top U.S. executive for world’s biggest nuclear power company appealed Thursday for President Barack Obama to use nuclear power to fuel an energy renaissance.

“It will be very good for our children and our grandchildren to have a clean, carbon-free source of energy from nuclear power,” Areva President Jacques Besnainou told the Chattanooga chapter of the American Nuclear Society. “Nuclear power is not the only solution, but there is no solution without nuclear.”

Such a move by the president would be comparable to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, Mr. Besnainou said.

The French-owned Areva Inc. hopes to build one-third of the 100 new nuclear reactors that Mr. Besnainou expects to be constructed around the world by 2030.

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The company already is building a uranium reprocessing facility in Idaho and a nuclear manufacturing facility in Virginia. Such projects ensure that “American nuclear plants will be American made,” said Mr. Besnainou, who became a U.S. citizen four years ago.

Despite the global credit crisis and economic slowdown, Italy, the United Kingdom, China, India and France all are planning to build new reactors. Boosted by enhanced loan guarantees expected from the economic stimulus plan now moving through the U.S. Congress, Mr. Besnainou said he also expects a revival of nuclear power in the United States.

Critics object to expanding America’s nuclear fleet until a disposal site is picked for the radioactive wastes generated from the 104 existing commercial plants. But Areva officials said they are able to recycle 95 percent of the spent nuclear wastes in France at plants that recapture most of the energy in spent fuel.

Areva is pushing for a similar recycling plant in the United States, which Mr. Besnainou said likely will cost more than $15 billion to build.

TVA Executive Vice President Jack Bailey said U.S. utilities also are eager to recycle their nuclear wastes, but the expense of a recycling facility probably will require federal financial assistance.

Mr. Besnainou said the French government backed the nuclear industry, which grew using U.S.-developed technology after the 1973 Arab oil embargo cut off oil supplies.

Today, Areva operates 58 reactors which collectively supply 80 percent of France’s electricity, making it the most energy independent and lowest carbon producer of any major Western industrialized country.

“You could do exactly the same thing in the United States,” Mr. Besnainou said.

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