July 21, 2008

Sen. Larry Craig Reports on Trip to AREVA Plants

By Hagadone, Zach

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, returned recently from a fact- finding trip to France, where he toured several AREVA nuclear facilities and met with the energy giant's CEO Anne Lauvergeon.

Craig, who is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has been a longtime, vocal booster of nuclear energy and was a major player in the effort to bring the AREVA's new $2 billion uranium enrichment facility to the Idaho Falls area.

Of particular interest on Craig's trip was a tour of the George Besse II enrichment plant being built in Valence, France. Designed to be among the most energy efficient plants of its type, the George Besse II is meant to replace an older, nearby plant, and provides a model for the proposed Idaho facility.

In an interview with The Idaho Business Review shortly after his return, Craig shared his impressions of the George Besse II, lessons he feels the U.S. should learn from France and what needs to be done to increase domestic nuclear energy production.

IBR: What did you take away from touring the George Besse II plant?

"When you cross the street from the old plant to the new plant it's a total sea-change in terms of technology. It has a much lower profile, it's air cooled, there are no large cooling towers you would see at an older facility, it uses not 50 percent less, but 50 times less energy than the old process. It is a whole new concept. It's a proven design, and it's a perfect example of when we stopped and they moved forward technologically."

IBR: What were your impressions of the way France has developed its nuclear power portfolio?

"It's very impressive from a variety of viewpoints, and I say that because I'm a person who's followed the issue of nuclear energy almost all of my congressional career. To visit a country that kept moving forward while we stopped and to see their level of expertise is very impressive.

"The other component of it is the very high degree of openness and transparency with which they do this in the country, and the very clear and constant effort they have in dealing with their publics. They are very transparent in what they do. Very aggressive and responsive to getting answers when questioned. So they've come a long way and we have a great deal to learn from them I do believe."

IBR: How do the French people feel about continued nuclear development?

"I think the reasonable statement is the vast majority of the French people support their nuclear industry. They've grown to believe in it and have faith in it and it has provided them with an abundance of energy.

"Is there opposition? Sure. There is opposition and there always will be. There are interest groups out there whose whole purpose, the way they make money, they way they put food on their activist tables, if you will, is by being anti-nuclear."

IBR: What needs to be done in the United States to further nuclear energy use?

"There needs to be right-up-front, tremendous transparency and broad-based information sent out far in advance... and absolutely nothing taken for granted. It is not going to be easy to site a nuclear reactor in somebody's backyard. We all have a touch of NIMBY in us. We're going to make sure it's safe and secure.

IBR: Based on what you saw in France, what's the future of nuclear energy in Idaho?

"The nuclear industry will go where they are, number one, appreciated; and, number two, there are well-informed critical observers and critical citizenry participation, and I think that's true in Idaho.

"With the national lab, we have a history of being friendly to the nuclear industry while at the same time being critical. Respecting it and at the same time demanding we do it the right way. I sensed in AREVA that they have a high degree of respect for that... they don't mind the tough questions that should be asked in a public forum and a public process that would site a facility of the kind that is going to be sited."

Credit: Zach Hagadone

(Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires)

(c) 2008 Idaho Business Review, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.