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Friday, December 2, 2011

'Nuclear energy remains a very attractive option'

Bernard Bigot, head of CEA, the atomic and alternative energy body for France, and also the head of the country’s Atomic Energy Commission, says nuclear power is a sensible option and safety a priority. Edited excerpts of a talk with Sanjay Jog:

The Fukushima accident has forced nuclear countries to review safety applications and carry out necessary modifications. What is your view on this?

We welcome this review. Nuclear safety is of utmost importance and we should always take into account the feedback experience to improve safety in the most efficient way. Various initiatives have been launched, at international and national levels. In the case of France, the French Safety Authority, ASN, have requested from the operators complementary safety assessments for all existing plants and facilities, as well as for those under construction. The ASN report will be made available to the public at the beginning of next year. The initial assessment from operators is already available to the public.

Germany, an importer of energy, has decided to remove nuclear power from its energy mix in the near future, while other countries have confirmed their intention to continue down the nuclear road. Has Fukushima impacted the nuclear renaissance?

Undoubtedly, Fukushima has slowed the construction pace of new plants. However, the context remains the same — soaring energy demand, depletion of natural resources, global warming. To face these growing challenges, nuclear energy remains a very attractive energy option, provided safety is the top priority, as reminded by the Fukushima accident.

AREVA (of France) is negotiating with Nuclear Power Corporation for supply of two evolutionary pressurised reactors (EPRs) of 1,650 Mw for the Jaitapur project. Critics are raising objections against EPR safety.

The EPR reactor, an AREVA product, is based on an evolutionary technology. It is derived from well tested and well proven technologies, namely the French N4 and German Konvoi reactors, which have been operating successfully for many years in France and Germany. The EPR is derived from these two reactor concepts, with enhanced safety measures, to integrate the feedback experience of the Three Misle Island and Chernobyl accidents. The EPR is the most advanced design as far as safety is concerned.

After Fukushima, AREVA has revisited the safety applications of EPRs as directed by the French regulator. What are the major modifications suggested and implemented by AREVA?

No major modification was suggested by the reviewers. The EPR was clearly conceived to avoid the occurrence of any accident. As a result, the EPR reactor contains state of the art safety measures. The French Safety Authority has asked for complementary safety assessments. This process is ongoing. We are awaiting the final results of these assessments, which should be known very soon, and we shall share these with the Indian authorities.

What is your view on the recently released civil nuclear liability rules by the Government of India?

We are planning to work within the framework of these rules. Nevertheless, we will have to wait for final version. We understand that they have to be placed before the Indian parliament.

What is the present status of the protocol signed between CEA and the Atomic Energy Commission of India in 2002?

The aim of the Protocol signed in 2002 between CEA and AEC, which was renewed in 2007 between CEA and Department of Atomic Energy, was to establish a structure for the coordination of our bilateral cooperation programs. After signing of the 2008 inter-governmental agreement, this memorandum of understanding was replaced by a framework agreement signed between CEA and DAE during the French president’s visit to India in 2010. The Joint Coordinated Committee set up by this agreement offers the possibility to review annually our cooperation, with the aim of giving it more impetus.


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