Is there a nuclear energy squeeze play in Japan and France?
Political expediency seems to be the motivation in Japan, but the picture is less clear in France
Last Friday Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda appeared to bow to overwhelming anti-nuclear sentiment in his country in an effort to save his party's fortunes in the upcoming elections later this fall.
But Japan will operate its current fleet of reactors for at least the next 20-30 years and three new power stations now under construction will be completed which means they could be keeping the lights on until 2070 or longer.
In France, the Socialist Party, which won the election there last May, struggled to balance commitments to reducing greenhouse gases with calls by its partner Green Party to aggressively reduce reliance on nuclear energy.
The French government is unlikely to agree to the demand by the Greens for a zero power option for nuclear energy. Even so the announced plan to reduce reliance in the nations nuclear power stations from 75% to 50% may be set aside.
According to the New York Times for Sept 15, Arnaud Montebourg, French minister for economic recovery, said in a TV interview that nuclear energy is the "industry of the future" and is a "tremendous asset" for France. If nothing else his remarks will give Areva's CEO Luc Oursel at least one good night of sleep.
These actions follow decisions by Germany and Switzerland to phase out their nuclear reactors. For those who have been living under a rock., Germany shuttered half its fleet and will close the remaining nuclear power stations by 2022. These actions will result in a greater use of coal and natural gas and make Germany a steady customer of Russia's energy production capacity.
As for Switzerland, the parliament has left itself a political loophole in its 2035 deadline saying it might consider new reactor construction if the right "safe" technology comes along. Naturally, the legislation doesn't define it leaving an opening large enough for just about anything a future power starved electorate will be willing to accept.
In France Areva CEO Luc Oursel, who severely cut back the firm's planned capital investments in December 2011, said the global nuclear energy industry needs to restore public trust following the Fukushima crisis. A Westinghouse executive told Reuters Sept 13 that TEPCO's errors at Fukushima, which contributed to the scope of the disaster, point to the need for international cooperation on safety issues.
Some promising signs
While all this hand wringing was taking place, there were several developments that indicate the whole world is not in a head-over-heels retreat from nuclear energy. In the U.K. Westinghouse said it is "absolutely committed" to the country's new build.
The firm is reported to be in talks to partner with China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., and Exelon from the U.S to bid on the Horizon project. It was to be built by two German utilities who quit after their cash flow dried up from the German government's decision to shut down eight of the nation's reactors.
UAE project progress
In a decision that will support thousands of American jobs, the board of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) has authorized a $2 billion direct loan to the Barakah One Company of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to underwrite the export of American equipment and service-expertise for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
According to estimates derived from U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the line of credit will support approximately 5,000 American jobs across 17 states.
The loan ranks as Ex-Im Bank's largest transaction in the U.A.E. to date and counts as Ex-Im Bank's first greenfield nuclear-plant financing since the late 1990s.
Barakah One Company plans to erect four nuclear reactor power-generating units on a coastal strip along the Arabian Gulf approximately 220 kilometers from the city of Abu Dhabi.
The 1400 MW reactors, supplied by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) will come online at one-year intervals starting in 2017.
Westinghouse Electric Company LLC, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based group company of Toshiba Corporation, is the largest exporter involved in the transaction and will provide the reactor coolant pumps, reactor components, controls, engineering services, and training.
A total of eight Westinghouse nuclear power plants are currently under construction in China and the United States.
The UAE also recently let contracts worth $3 billion for procurement of nuclear fuel. Rio Tino, a mining company, and Areva, will supply the uranium needed to fuel four new reactors.
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