Anti-nuclear activist, Stéphane Lhomme, president of L'Obsveratoire du nucléaire, was acquitted today by an appeals court of defaming the French corporate nuclear giant Areva. Lhomme had originally been convicted but appealed the decision. In December 2012 he had revealed through documents evidence that Areva had paid the government of Niger (where it mines uranium) 26 milllion euros, of which 15 million had been used to buy a plane for the country's president. The donation and purchase were confirmed by the Niger president. Areva denied that this amounted to corruption. When originally convicted and charged a fine in February 2014, Lhomme was told by the court that he had not proven corruption.
France gets nearly 80% of its electricity from its 58 reactors. However, such a heavy reliance on nuclear power brings with it many major, unsolved problems, most especially that of radioactive waste. Despite assertions to the contrary, the French nuclear story is far from a gleaming example of nuclear success.
As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Exelon/Constellation Nuclear will pay Electricite de France (EDF) a $400 million "special dividend" payment, in exchange for severing partnerships at three U.S. nuclear power plants, totaling five reactors, including Calvert Cliffs Units 1 & 2 on the Chesapeake Bay in Lusby, Maryland (photo, left), and the Ginna and Nine Mile Point Unit 1 & 2 nuclear power plants on the Lake Ontario shore of Upstate, New York. EDF then has the option to sell its 49.99% stake in the nuclear power plants to Exelon between 2016-2022.
When Constellation abandoned the project, not wanting to risk its own skin in the game in exchange for a $7.5 billion federal nuclear loan guarantee offered by the Obama administration, EDF was left holding the bag as majority owner of the proposed new reactor, Calvert Cliffs Unit 3. But foreign ownership is illegal under the Atomic Energy Act, and no other American partner stepped up. The proposed new reactor was to have been a French Areva EPR (1,600 Megawatt-electric Evolutionary Power Reactor). Numerous additional proposed new EPRs have been indefinitely postponed or outright canceled across the U.S. and Canada.
As reported in the article, 'EDF Chief Financial Officer Thomas Piquemal said Tuesday that the deal represents what he hopes is "the last chapter of our U.S. adventure with Constellation," Bloomberg reported.
As reported by Power Engineering International, EDF's CEO, Henri Proglio, speaking at a news conference in Paris, stated: "The circumstances for the development of nuclear in the US are not favorable at the moment. We are a major player in nuclear, but we are not obsessed by nuclear. Our development in the US will focus on renewable energy – that will be our vector of growth in the US.” (emphasis added)
Between 20-30 Greenpeace activists successfully broke into a nuclear power plant at the giant Tricastin nuclear facility in southern France on July 15 prompting calls for an examination of security at French nuclear facilities. The action exposed the very real vulnerabilities of France, the longtime illusory nuclear “poster child” of nuclear power industry boosters. The activists screened messages on the side of the reactor building, including one that asks "ready to pat the price," pictured left. Read more.
As a reminder once again that the possession of nuclear resources can trigger violence, a suicide bomber struck at the Areva-owned Arlit uranium mine in Niger on May 23rd, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others. The attack was perpetrated by an Al Qaeda jihadist simultaneously with an attack on a military base in Agadez, Niger. The attacker drove inside the Arlit complex in a vehicle loaded with 400 kilograms of explosives. The incident exposed once again the security vulnerabilities at the site, already the source of controversy given the extreme water depletion caused by the operation and the pervasive high level of radioactive contamination of air, water, soils and rocks. Niger is one of the biggest sources of uranium in the world. French industrial giant, Areva, an arm of the French government, also mines uranium in Canada and Kazakhstan. Niger is rated as one of the poorest countries in the world and the locals see little benefit from the exploitation of uranium which has also destroyed the pastoral traditions of the indigenous Tuareg peoples. (Pictured, a typical house of a uranium miner in Arlit.) The independent laboratory, CRIIRAD, has done extensive investigations and analysis in Niger.Read more.
Having based its power system on nuclear energy since the mid 1970s, France has accumulated around 2700 cubic metres of high-level radioactive waste and about 40,000 cubic metres of long-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste. Between them these contain 99% of the radioactivity from nuclear power generation. A highly controversial geological burial site has been chosen near Bure that straddles the Meuse and Haute-Marne regions. A research facility is currently in place there - along with a permanent "vigilance" of opposition. Now the "public" inquiry phase has begun. A series of public meetings will be held through Oct. 15, 2013, and the government and regulators will consider the outcome when they decide whether to approve the site.Andra, the waste-management agency spearheading the plan, wants to start construction in 2019 and begin operations in 2025.