Areva, the French nuclear reactor producer, is not deterred by the Japanese nuclear setback. Bertrand Barré, scientific advisor to the group chairman, explains the strategy to Sanjay Jog. Edited excerpts:
Has the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident adversely affected Areva’s plans on supply of new reactors globally?
No, we will continue to be an active player in the supply of new reactors. The global nuclear capacity is expected to increase to 730 Gw from the present 375 Gw. The proposed capacity may be achieved by 2035. Areva hopes to have a share of a fourth to a third in the proposed build-up. We are currently concentrating on India, the US, the UK, China, Jordan, Czech Republic, Finland and South Africa.
The fundamentals of the electricity market have not changed. There is a need for development of nuclear capacity, especially in the wake of the challenges of climate change and cost of burning fossil fuel. Further, the company is investing some ¤12 billion to further secure, renew and expand existing front-end production capabilities over the next five years in the three segments on the front end of the fuel cycle — mining, conversion and enrichment of uranium. Areva is unique in its ability to provide fully integrated front-end products and services, from a geographically diversified and committed industrial platform. Our offering will contribute to a sustainable fuel supply solution for India’s fleet.
How hazard-resistant are the EPRs you offer?
Evolutionary Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) are third-generation, high-power output reactors. Areva has reassessed the conditions under which the EPR would operate in case of major internal or external hazards such as earthquakes, explosion due to the loss of cooling facilities and power supply, to specially address what happened in Fukushima. The buildings of the EPRs’ nuclear island are designed to resist damage and ensure confinement of radiological emissions in case of severe accidents. The ground acceleration experienced on March 11 at Fukushima Daiichi is reported to have been ground 0.3G to 0.5G. The seismic margin assessment of the EPR shows it can withstand ground level acceleration up to 0.6G, with a high level of confidence that no damage impairing the operability of its safety systems would occur.
I consider the EPR would have resisted the damage caused to the Fukushima Daiichi plant after the earthquake and tsunami. In some 2,500 reactor years of operation, none of the Areva designed or built units has had a nuclear accident , including the seven that have been shut at the end of their lifetime. Areva-plants are in operation are located in Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.
The anti-nuclear lobby in India argues that EPRs are not tested, proven.
In France, reactors of 1,500 Mw are in operation. EPRs are being developed with much safety additionalities and they are the most scrutinised new generation design in the world.
There are four EPRs currently under construction, in France, Finland and China, and five regulatory reviews are underway. Areva is further along in regulatory processes worldwide than any other advanced design supplier.
Areva has consistently shown its commitment to working in cooperation with national authorities to achieve the highest levels of safety. No regulatory body has never questioned the overall level of safety of the EPRs.
In India, these same guiding principles apply to Areva’s cooperation with Nuclear Power Corporation regarding the licensing of six EPRs for the 9,950 Mw Jaitapur project (initially two EPRs of 1,650 Mw each) by India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.
Non-government bodies and villagers have claimed Areva is bankrupt and the inter-government cooperation with France is to bail the company out.
In Areva, nearly 87 per cent of the capital belongs to the French state. France enjoys AAA credit ratings. The delivery of EPRs for Jaitapur can be expected at both a competitive cost and within the announced time schedule.
After studying amortisation projections and loan reimbursement modalities in light of the expected lifespan of the Jaitapur EPRs, as well as its low maintenance costs and strong availability, Areva is confident the levelised (economic production) cost of electricity fits with the current targets. It is also coherent with the practices of other major nuclear utilities regarding the economics of nuclear energy generation.