Nuclear Energy: ?Everyone Wants It?
3 Jul, 2007 12:30 pm
For Philippe Garderet, the scientific director of Areva, the world leading company in nuclear energy, ?the real subject at hand is not knowing whether people will want nuclear reactors, but knowing whether big industry that produces them will be capable of producing them at the rhythm demanded and at the quality sought after.?
Areva develops technological solutions in three major fields overall: the production of electricity from fissile material, the development of energy solutions from renewable technologies like wind, biomass, or fuel cells, and the distribution and transmission of electricity.
There are of course international stakes. I think everyone today realizes that there is a serious energy problem in the world. There is going to have to be a creation of energy infrastructures, in developed countries as well, because theyíre going to continue to renew or even change their solutions (change their carbon into gas or their gas into nuclear energy) and in developing countries that need to build. In the two cases, there is a lot of room for innovations. First people want, of course, systems that are competitive. Therefore, there has to be an improvement of competitiveness, in the yield of machines, and we have to find materials that last longer. Itís not a secret to anyone that people want to invest for the long term. This means that the life cycle of products we provide have to be guaranteed. This also means maintaining them in good condition: there needs to be a predictive type of maintenance, sensors that watch everything that is going on, and information systems that permit the planning of interventions.
Today, we often think of energy technology like technologies in engines, in heating systems, etc., but they are technologies in which computer technology, sensors, the processing of information, preventative diagnostics, play a key role. Also, I would take for example the transmission of electrical information: of course, large transformers are required, everyone knows that. But managing a network today is basically a huge IT system that is as complex as a seat reservation system for airplanes for all of the United States.
What will be Arevaís position regarding innovation in the field of nuclear power in relation to the new 3rd and 4th nuclear power plants?
Arevaís position is simple. For the next two, or three decades, I think, our clients will want reactors that are available immediately. Therefore we will sell 3rd generation models, EPR-like models. People know that it works, it makes competitive electricity, and they want it. I even want to go so far as to say that everyone wants it. The real subject at hand is not knowing whether people will want nuclear reactors, but knowing whether big industry that produces them will be capable of producing them at a rhythm demanded and at the quality sought after.
Secondly, if nuclear power develops, and it will develop, the next generation will already need to be in the process of development, one that will allow an improved use of uranium resources and to continually reduce the volume of leftovers, which are two demands of sustainable development.
How will the 3rd generation reactors produced by Areva distinguish themselves from their Russian and American competitors?
One has to be honest: they wonít fundamentally be any different than the cars Toyota makes and the ones made by Renault. There is a competition, we shouldnít fool ourselves. There will be a competition between a European builder like Areva, a Russian builder who for the moment is not organized like a true industry, but will be a serious competitor for us, and the Americans and the Japanese who donít have the intention of letting us dominate. Normally it consists of reactors with the same technology, pressurized water reactors. The problem is that we are fighting with customers to show that our reactors have constructive properties that make them easier to use, more economical, and that have a longer life cycle. Thatís why we also put a lot of emphasis not on the reactor itself, but also the way it is kept up and we maintain it for a longtime. Thatís how we either will or wonít beat out the competition.
In the field of renewables it seems that you are particularly interested in wind power. What are your ambitions in this field, and are you interested in others like geothermal?
I would say that we are interested in all energy sources, and also to be clear, wherever there is a market. We are industrialists; we donít only do R&D.
Wherever there is wind it is possible to install wind generators. Itís a serious market. We are already into wind energy, and we are going to try to develop in this field even if, like you have noticed in the press from time to time, that others can provide good deals, because we arenít the only ones who want to.
Secondly, there is biomass. In all countries where there is biomass available, itís absolutely idiotic not to transform it into electricity. Itís a market.
We talk a lot about an opening up of capital at Areva with the possibility of a merger with the Bouygues group. As the director of scientific research, do you see strong synergy between Bouygues for research and innovation with Areva?
Today when we talk about opening up of capital there are two things going on. First there is the fact that a company needs capital to develop. Secondly, as you have noticed, there is in a nuclear reactor a part that is purely nuclear, but also civil engineering. In any case, why do people today think about Bouygues or others? Itís because we already work with them. When we build a nuclear reactor a civil engineer needs to be called in. We will not wait for a merger with Bouygues so that they can help us to do neutronics, but today there can be mergers on all types of aspects that consist of huge civil engineering installations. But there could also be mergers with other partners in other fields as well. Thatís why when you read the press you see that a lot of people are interested in Areva for technical mergers, because they think that our business will develop and that itís an opportunity for them.
Interview by Jean-Luc Prigent and Gilles Prigent for Newsteam Agency and Scitizen.com at the "Salon the de la Recherche" in Paris (June 2007).
Translated by Christopher Le Coq.