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French Nuclear Model Called Into Question by French Expert

France's industry has had trouble doing what it supposedly does so well

2 min read

To a great extent U.S. nuclear energy policy in the last two decades has been driven by the premise that standardization of designs and construction procedures will bring down reactor costs. France's almost all-nuclear electricity sector, built basically by a single national company, is the model. But yesterday a French nuclear energy expert called that model into question. Speaking to reporters in an event sponsored by the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Yves Marignac pointed out that the country’s recent experiences with nuclear construction have not been exemplary. In a sense that's stating the obvious. Delays in building a nuclear power plant in Normandy and a similar one Finland, and a 75 percent cost overrun on the Finnish plant, have been widely reported. But Marignac says France's record building its four previous plants was not much better: They were connected to the grid only 12.5-15.5 years after construction began—a far cry from the four or five years in which Areva claims it can build new plants.

Asked what accounts for chronic construction delays, Marignac said it often is a matter of rather rudimentary problems such as failure to pour concrete or do welding to (admittedly exacting) standards. Why is pouring concrete harder for a reactor than, say, for a bank vault? For one thing, he said, because a containment's double walls have to be able to withstand hydrogen pressure and prevent hydrogen leakage in the event of an extreme meltdown accident.

Marignac, executive director of WISE-Paris, an information service, has contributed to blue-ribbon energy reports for the French government and European parliament. His views represent a significant challenge to the U.S. nuclear industry and its promoters because, if valid, they suggest the French model doesn't work well even in a country whose institutions favor it—a country with highly centralized planning, traditions of precise administrative procedure, a single administrative entity, and a single builder and single client,.

 

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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