France Secures Britain's Nuclear Industry

This morning, Sept. 24, British Energy formally accepted a take-over bid by Electricité de France, which means that France will soon own and operate the bulk of the UK's nuclear power generating industry. It's a measure of how far the processes of electricity deregulation, globalization, and Europeanization have gone that the story gets only secondary treatment in today's French press. It didn't even make Le Monde's online homepage, while on Le Figaro's it ranked 14th, putting it well "below the fold."

Today's deal puts EDF in charge of almost all of the UK's nuclear power plants and gives it control of most attractive sites for building new ones. This is important because the British government advocates an aggressive program of nuclear expansion, and wants to have at least four new plants in operation by 2017.

Unlike the late President Gerald Ford, to recall Lyndon Johnson's denigrating joke, EDF showed this week that it can walk and chew gum at the same time. On Friday it made a last-ditch attempt to boost its stake in Constellation Energy, which it hoped to make its bridgehead for entry into the U.S. nuclear construction industry. But Constellation still preferred to stick with Warren Buffett, who has promised the company a $1 billion cash injection.

In these troubled economic times, evidently, having Buffett's confidence means more than the world's best engineering expertise.

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