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Nuclear energy prospects after Fukushima

Publié le June 13, 2011
France’s approach and perspective - Speech by Ambassador of France, François Delattre.
Washington, Atlantic Council
SAIS, May 31st, 2011


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you here today for this Conference and would like to thank General Richard Lawson and Ambassador Volker for their invitation.

First of all I want to express to our Japanese friends France’s sympathy for the victims of the tragedy, the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, and the residents of the region who lost everything, their families, their homes and their livelihood. We know Japan will overcome this tragedy, as it has shown us in the past.

Now I would like to convey two messages to you today :

- first, France strongly believes in the future of nuclear energy as a key component of the global energy mix;
- secondly, and Fukushima is a strong reminder, nuclear safety and security must be the number one priority for our sustainable nuclear energy policy.

1) Let me first briefly remind you of the basic tenets of my country’s nuclear policy.

A/ France’s nuclear policy is a pro-active response to the country’s lack of energy resources.

In 1973, after the first oil shock, our government launched an ambitious nuclear program that gradually raised the share of electricity produced by nuclear power to more than 75% today with 58 nuclear reactors throughout the country.

This program, which despite changes in the political majority was retained over time, was supplemented by other policy initiatives promoting sustainable development; they involved both the recycling of nuclear materials and waste management.

Moreover, nuclear energy allows us to significantly reduce our greenhouse gaz emissions. In this respect it is a key environmental asset.

B/ The decision to opt for nuclear energy was the result of a democratic process involving every aspect of society—the state, local communities, NGOs, industries, the public— through a process that assesses the risks and benefits of that policy.

In 2005 a law established our energy policy orientations and confirmed the role of nuclear energy in the future energy mix, with three objectives:

- energy independence and security of supply
- environmental protection
- economic competitiveness.

By establishing the legal framework for the construction of the first EPR in Flamanville, France, this law opened the way to the long-term renewal of France’s nuclear facilities based on decisions that will be taken by the Safety Authority at the end of 40 years of operation.

C/ At the European level, despite differing national visions on the means of production to implement in the future, France helped develop common objectives in 2008 for the energy-climate package.

D/ At the international level, France promotes nuclear energy as
one of the components of the global energy mix.

We have long worked closely with certain countries, particularly the U.S., our historical partner, with which we have developed ties of cooperation in research, security and industrial partnerships.

Let me also mention the trusting relations between our two countries’ nuclear safety authorities, which gave birth to the Multilateral Design Evaluation Partnership (MDEP).

Beyond these partnerships, President Sarkozy wants to give new momentum to helping countries that want to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, provided that these countries adhere to the strictest safety standards – again, safety must be the number one priority - ,
committing to transparency, the respect of international treaties and non-proliferation.

For us, this is one of the keys to the renewal and strengthening of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. Only under these circumstances, does France support these countries through preliminary and preparatory stages, particularly the establishment of the project, training and the creation of a safety authority.

This was underscored by President Sarkozy at the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy held in Paris in March of last year.

2) The very favorable prospects that existed not so long ago throughout the world for the development of nuclear energy were stymied by the Fukushima nuclear accident.

A/ France immediately expressed its support and offered
its assistance to Japan.

It offered emergency aid and personnel, staple goods and, through the IAEA, the means it could mobilize in response to the nuclear accident that had affected Fukushima’s reactors.

Areva is currently taking part in operations on the ground with the installation of a waste processing plant that should be operational in the coming days.

It is vital to show solidarity in such situations. Our countries’ authorities and nuclear operators must know they can count on immediate international support, given the need to move fast, and rely on all available expertise and means of intervention around the globe.

B/ Immediately after the Fukushima accident, France’s Prime Minister François Fillon requested that the French Safety Authority conduct an audit of our 58 reactors in light of the accident and its initial lessons, in a spirit of openness and transparency vis-à-vis the public.

These audits focused on risks such as those encountered in Japan but also on the operational management of the emergency situations.

For power reactors, operators must submit an initial report in mid-September, which will be reviewed by our Safety Authority by November.

On the European level, France supported the principle of stress tests to be carried out in a coordinated fashion on all nuclear plants operated or scheduled to be built in the EU. The European Council adopted this position shortly after the Fukushima accident, on March 24 and 25.
3) Now what about the medium-term political agenda to strengthen global nuclear safety ?

During his visit to Japan at the end of March, President Sarkozy reaffirmed his confidence in nuclear energy, confidence that goes hand-in-hand with the absolute need to ensure the safety of our nuclear facilities.

President Sarkozy therefore recalled our resolve—already expressed at the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy—to promote the highest levels of nuclear safety throughout the world, in a way that is now all the more necessary and pressing.

As part of its G8 and G20 presidency this year, France is particularly active on nuclear issues.

The G8 summit in Deauville only a few days ago provided the opportunity to engage and deliver a message of confidence in nuclear energy’s role in the future energy mix, along with a heightened demand for safety. France organized two meetings of the G8 Nuclear Safety and Security Group this year.

In addition, France will actively contribute to the IAEA Ministerial Conference that will take place in Vienna on June 20-24.

The objective of this Conference will be to draw the initial lessons of the Fukushima accident, initiate an international process to establish an enhanced security regime, and strengthen our collective ability to respond to a serious accident.

France fully supports the IAEA’s initiative and has called for a preliminary ministerial seminar on nuclear safety on June 7, bringing together the members of the G8 and OECD/NEA as well as the key countries involved in nuclear energy production.

Identifying consensus elements at the government level beyond the G8 circle will send a strong message to the safety authorities and organizations involved in the IAEA’s approach.

This message will be received by the OECD/NEA safety authorities who will meet the following day and later again at the IAEA Conference on June 20-24.

France’s goal is to ensure a higher and joint commitment to safety. Yet each national authority must remain fully independent in its responsibilities, and no supranational authority should undermine the responsibility of a country’s national safety authority.

In conclusion, let me reiterate France’s commitment to nuclear energy not only for its own energy need but as part of a global energy mix. That commitment rests upon France’s determination to promote the highest safety standards worldwide. And the G8-G20 initiatives taken by France, referred to earlier, highlight this strong and lasting commitment.