Getting Serious About Nuclear Power

Let me be clear: even if France has technical expertise in nuclear power that is acknowledged throughout the world, the United States defines its nuclear strategy in light of its own objectives and needs. Having said that, we all face a common reality. Studies show that the current model of economic growth, which is built on the illusion that fossil fuels are limitless, is not going to be viable over the long term. The continued emission of greenhouse gases directly threatens the climate balance of our planet. Beyond that, the global need for energy is increasing ceaselessly, up 2.8 percent in 2007 after a jump of 2.5 percent in 2006. We should already be thinking about the "after oil" era. In that regard, the 21st century will be a century of energy transition for everyone. (Story continued below...)

The first objective of big economies, industrialized or emerging, should be to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. This should be done by curbing consumption and developing alternative energy supplies that are low in carbon emissions. The nuclear approach is one solution, along with renewable sources like wind, solar power and biomass.

To be acceptable, nuclear power has to meet three demands: safety, transparency and responsibility. This implies first putting in place a nuclear-safety authority that is totally independent of the producers, with an expertise that is objective and trustworthy. In 2006, France put in place a rigorous technical framework to guarantee total transparency in nuclear activities. This included the creation of the Nuclear Safety Authority, an independent agency with five permanent directors, to control all nuclear installations. It conducts nearly 800 inspections per year, and all its conclusions are available in real time on the Internet. Another group, the Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety, supervises nuclear research and conducts on-site evaluations. We also have an executive committee that brings together elected officials, association representatives and experts to address questions of information and transparency regarding nuclear security. At my request, this committee just conducted a survey of underground drinking water near our nuclear installations to verify the absence of contamination.

Finally, the development of nuclear energy is inconceivable if it is done in a way that does not respect future generations. Thus, France, along with Japan, is one of the only countries in the world to have a completely integrated network for processing and storing nuclear waste. In addition, in our financial planning we have anticipated the need to dismantle each nuclear-power station after 60 years of operation. To avoid saddling our children with the expense, France has a strict rule: nuclear firms must hold financial assets to cover the future cost of dismantling. These assets are under legal protection and managed according to precise rules set by the government. It's under these conditions, and only these conditions, that nuclear energy will find its place in the "energy mix" of any nation.