Nuclear group Areva insists public trusts sector

Two years after Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis, the head of French group Areva, a leading company in the sector, insisted that public confidence in atomic energy has been re-established.

"We're seeing this confidence return," Luc Oursel told journalists in Warsaw on Monday.

"In Europe, there are more and more countries favouring nuclear than those opposing it," he insisted.

That position was not shared by German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, who said in early January that his country, the biggest European economy, would never return to nuclear power after Berlin decided in the wake of the Japanese disaster to shut down reactors.

Two years ago, a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake unleashed a giant tsunami along Japan's northeastern Pacific coast, crippling reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which then exploded, spewing radioactive materials into surrounding areas.

Areva, the world's leading nuclear power company, subsequently launched its Safety Alliance program to reinforce security at nuclear plants across the globe.

"One of the main developments after Fukushima was reinforcing cooperation in the area of safety," Oursel insisted.

The Fukushima disaster forced tens of thousands of residents near the area to abandon their homes and jobs in heavily contaminated areas. It is not clear when they can return home, if ever, and officials involved in the clean-up have said it could take up to 40 years to fully secure the site.

Oursel spoke in Poland during a trip made to focus on its nascent nuclear energy sector.

A country of 38.2 million, Poland now relies on coal-fired plants for 90 percent of its electricity.

Keen to find alternatives which could help it limit greenhouse gas emissions arising from coal, Warsaw intends to build two nuclear plants, each with a capacity of 3,000 megawatts, by 2024.

A public tender for the project is expected soon.

A new UN atomic agency report seen by AFP on March 5 said that the world's nuclear power generation capacity grew again in 2012 after a drop in 2011 in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Several nuclear power groups have expressed interest in building the Polish facility, EDF and Areva of France, the US firm Westinghouse Electric and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Americas.

Poland has also earmarked five billion zloty (120 million euros, $157 million) to explore and develop its shale gas reserves.

Some estimates suggest that Poland could have up to 1.92 trillion cubic metres (67.8 trillion cubic feet) of exploitable shale gas deposits, possibly the third largest reserves in Europe after Norway and the Netherlands.

The global groups Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Talisman Energy are involved in the Polish shale gas exploration programme.

According to Oursel, developing shale gas deposits would not undermine efforts to build more nuclear plants in Poland however, because "there is room for both" energy sources.

Polish political support to develop nuclear energy "seems very clear to me" the sector executive added.

He also said that the Czech Republic's recent decision to drop Areva from a tender on the expansion of its Temelin nuclear power station, would not weaken his company's chances in Poland.

Looking ahead to development of green energy sources, Oursel said Areva has also begun to look into offshore wind power and biomass energy potentials in Poland.

Source: AFP
Date: Mar 12, 2013