A French Company Tries Nuclear in California

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California's global warming law, AB32, calls for utilities to increase their use of renewable energy to at least 30 percent by 2020, and some say they may not make it. Enter Areva SA, a power developer largely owned by the French government, which has signed an agreement with the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group to build nuclear reactors in California's Central Valley. Whether they will ever be built is another question all together.Why? California turned against nuclear power in the 1970s and has not looked back. Berkeley, my hometown's (Oakland) next door neighbor, won't do business with any company that supports nuclear energy. Sacramento, the state capital, has had a moratorium on new nukes since 1976.

But Areva SE is betting that the Golden State's disfavor of nuclear power won't stand up after regulators and citizens look closely at their climate goals. The developers think that if the state is to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, which AB32 calls for, then it must have clean baseload power and nuclear reactors are the best option.

The situation is a clear example of what may await the rest of the country if we have get a climate bill passed, Many environmentalists are against nuclear power because of waste problems, safety issues, and the idea that money spent on nuclear is better spent on renewables like wind and solar. Maybe so, but the drive to reduce global warming emissions is enough incentive for some to overlook nuclear's shortcomings and give it another try.

According to EE News, Jim Metropolus, a veteran legislative expert at Sierra Club California, think the Areva proposal has merit.

The EPR technology is built and marketed for a new generation of nuclear potential and insecurities. For one, it employs a double-layer concrete dome to protect against a terrorist attack. And Areva insists it is far safer and more economical than reactors built in the past century.

Moreover, the Fresno group, which is led by a connected Central Valley utility commissioner, John Hutson, is well-financed and appears intent on attacking the political challenge from the ground up. The investment group, according to sources, has enlisted B.B. Blevins, a former executive director at the California Energy Commission and appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R), to help navigate the state government and lobby on its behalf.

To Metropolus, this means interest groups aligned against nuclear power (which is Sierra Club California's official position) should heed the Areva agreement as something to be taken seriously, despite the entrenched political reality.

"I don't think these people are country bumpkins as some people in the media have portrayed them, or even rabid pro-nuclear people," Metropolus said in a phone interview. "I certainly believe that the Fresno group is very serious, and maybe they have a chance regardless of the law in California."

More on Nuclear Power:
Nuclear Power "Economics Are Just Not There": Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute
Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly? : TreeHugger