Call it the world’s slowest photo finish. After several decades of engineering, construction flaws and delays, and cost overruns—a troubled birth that cost their developers dearly—the most advanced commercial reactor designs from Europe and the United States just delivered their first megawatt-hours of electricity within one day of each other. But their benefits—including safety advances such as the AP1000’s passive cooling and the EPR’s airplane-crash-proof shell—may offer too little, too late to secure future projects.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy was in Normandy last week at the construction site of France’s first new nuclear reactor in two decades, highlighting plans to commence a second new reactor and, according to Paris-based daily Le Monde (Google translation here), calling nuclear energy a key part of the country’s economic recovery plan. The move is evidence of further diversity in how countries are seeking to shape their energy futures via recovery plans, as President Barack Obama negotiates with Congress to keep renewable energy atop his plan and Canada’s latest budget pursues a heavy emphasis on carbon capture and storage.
A who’s-who list of French corporate heavyweights angling for a piece of Sarkozy’s action leaves no doubt that government dollars impact industrial strategy. French state-owned power giant Electricité de France (EDF) is building the reactor at Flammanville that Sarkozy visited last week, using the third-generation EPR reactor designed by French nuclear technology firm Areva. But Sarkozy says a second EPR to be built further up the Normandy coast at Penly will unite EDF and France’s number two player in electricity, GDF Suez; Reuters reported today that French oil and gas firm Total also wants a “double-digit” stake in the project.