CANADA | Areva sees no ‘nuclear winter’ after Fukushima

Posted on June 14, 2011

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CANADA | FINANCIAL POST | 14 June 2011

REUTERS/Issei Kato

PARIS – The outlook for the global nuclear industry remains strong despite the emotion and doubts spurred by the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan, the head of French nuclear group Areva said on Tuesday.

“Will there be a new nuclear winter like there was after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?,” Areva Chief Executive Anne Lauvergeon asked at a parliamentary hearing, referring to the U.S. accident in 1979 and the 1986 meltdown in the Ukraine.

“I don’t see this (a nuclear winter) happening,” said Lauvergeon, adding that high oil prices, the need to produce cleaner energy, and surging energy demand from emerging countries meant nuclear would remain in the world’s energy mix.

The major accident in March, at Japan’s quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, sparked a new debate on the dangers of nuclear power and led countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Italy to phase out atomic power.

On Monday, an overwhelming majority of Italians voted to ban nuclear energy for decades, while Germany recently said it would close all nuclear plants by 2022.

“Fundamentals are backing up nuclear,” she said, adding that despite the German and Italian decisions, more European countries continued to support nuclear power, citing Britain, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Beyond Europe, the United States, India, China and South Africa have also said they would go ahead with plans to develop more nuclear power projects.

“We are absolutely not in a situation of nuclear freeze.” Lauvergeon said, she expected strong demand from Asia in particular, a region in which Areva expects half of the world’s new nuclear capacity to be built by 2025. But, she said, decisions on new nuclear projects would likely be delayed by three to nine months, depending on the country.

This will likely affect the business of state-controlled Areva, although Lauvergeon estimated her group would not be hit hard, as a large chunk of its turnover comes from existing business.

“About 83 percent of our sales is based on installed capacities, so this is unlikely to move and this could even be boosted as we are seeing more demand from clients to install new emergency systems, more sophisticated cooling systems.”

Areva will deliver a new business outlook by the end of June, factoring in the impact of the Fukushima catastrophe on the global nuclear industry, said Lauvergeon, who is rumoured to be replaced when her mandate expires on June 29.

Lauvergeon briefly hinted at her future, saying she was determined “for the next 16 days and I hope for longer than that,” to help keep Areva as a key provider of nuclear services.

Last month, Areva said Japan’s nuclear disaster had led it to scuttle its long-term financial targets.

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