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Nuclear industry

Published on October 28, 2014
Speech by M. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister, at the World Nuclear Exhibition
Le Bourget, October 15, 2014

Thank you for this visit to the first Nuclear Exhibition, an event allowing us to fully appreciate the challenges of the sector and the expertise in it from all over the world – state-of-the-art expertise, including from France.

Few industrial sectors give rise to so much thought, discussion and passionate debate as nuclear energy. Of course, there are debates that can be understood – and must be had – on safety issues. That’s even truer following the Fukushima accident, which can only be a matter of concern to us. And we’ve reacted: I’ve just seen the EDF intervention force, which is a fine demonstration of it. There’s also the issue of the links between civilian and military nuclear power, and the risks of proliferation that shape the major global equilibriums.

But beyond these debates – which are legitimate, which must shake up society and be conducted with the greatest transparency –, beyond these debates there’s one certainty: we need nuclear energy to meet energy demand. Nuclear energy is an essential sector: vital for that energy demand, but also for research, for innovation and thus for building the future. A society really does need progress.

Without going back to Henri Becquerel, Marie and Pierre Curie – great French people, also rewarded with the Nobel Prize! –, the adventure of the atom, that great scientific and industrial adventure, plays a central role for our country. Without the Atomic Energy Commission [CEA] and the work being done in the Essonne, in Saclay, without Pierre Mendès-France’s decision to embark on a French military nuclear programme, which has since been the subject of national consensus, France wouldn’t be what it is today.

Nuclear power is a strategic industry for our country: a turnover of €46 billion and 2,500 companies of all sizes – innovative SMEs and major groups – forming a very competitive industrial fabric that is recognized abroad. Those companies – which operate on the markets for “turnkey” plants, spare parts and maintenance – export and directly or indirectly employ 220,000 especially qualified people. I was able to see this again in June, when I visited an Areva site in Le Creusot.

For France, nuclear energy is a factor of independence and industrial, economic, diplomatic and military power. It’s a major strength for the present and the future.

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Indeed, this exhibition gives a good insight into global prospects for the nuclear industry. The International Energy Agency predicts, by 2030, an increase of nearly 50% in nuclear power and the modernization of 30% of existing reactors. Those are all market opportunities.

We know that most projects will be located outside the European Union, particularly in China. In addition to the new reactors – which are still emblematic projects –, the French nuclear industry as a whole will also be able to offer more services, more maintenance and a greater supply of fuel.

The industry is at the heart of a gobal context which has changed: over the past few years, competition has intensified, with new countries and new alliances between energy producers and equipment suppliers.

Providing a better structure for the French industry means giving it a higher profile abroad. That’s necessary for our trade balance and our jobs – those of today, of course, but also those of tomorrow, because nuclear energy means highly-skilled professions that are constantly changing in line with technical progress, for example in boilerwork.
The Strategic Committee for the Nuclear Industry was one of the first to be created… and yet, in the space of a few months, it’s been able to organize itself, taking inspiration from the aerospace industry. The French Nuclear Industry Exporters’ Association, AIFEN, is today organizing its first exhibition. And what an exhibition! It’s the first and already the largest in the world, with nearly 500 exhibitors, 7,000 international experts and hundreds of visitors.

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This exhibition underlines France’s leading place in the world nuclear industry. And when you’re among global leaders, you have to put in place technologies with the highest level of safety.

So France will continue to promote the third-generation EPR and ATMEA reactors. Work to optimize them is probably necessary; I have confidence in the cooperation between EDF and Areva to achieve this.

With 58 reactors in France, EDF has unmatched experience of managing a fleet. I know that, as a result, it receives many international requests to pass on its skills.

EDF has also been able to adapt very quickly to new safety requirements after Fukushima. I’m thinking in particular of the rapid nuclear action force: 150 members of staff who can be mobilized in an hour to intervene at any nuclear power station. Such a system must be promoted internationally.

A safe nuclear industry at global level also requires new entrants to possess expertise in every field: research, industry, and safety authorities. That’s why France must strengthen its institutional capability in order to support safe, controlled nuclear programmes worldwide. I’ll be keen to mobilize all the stakeholders – manufacturers, the civil service, public establishments and the International Institute of Nuclear Energy – to help the French nuclear industry export its expertise, its know-how. I want to say this very directly: this mobilization must be done in a coordinated way. There’s no question of allowing rivalries to damage France and the signing of contracts.

The Nuclear Safety Authority also has a role to play internationally, and its independence is a key factor in the French nuclear industry’s credibility.

Guaranteeing safety also means being able to plan ahead in order to anticipate all future challenges.

I’m thinking, of course, of fourth-generation reactors. They’ll make it possible to recycle fuel several times and therefore improve our security of supply. These reactors of tomorrow must be an R&D priority, particularly in the framework of the CEA. Those countries that have chosen nuclear energy – maintaining it, developing it – are not only countries that plan ahead, that want to be more competitive, that embrace the world as it is: they also provide themselves with extra assets in terms of R&D, and that’s why we must strengthen the industry.

Planning ahead also means developing all the skills – particularly in robotics – necessary for decommissioning plants.

Finally, planning ahead means constantly managing radioactive waste. In this field, France is particularly advanced. Sites exist today for certain types of waste, like low-activity waste. I often hear people say that nuclear energy isn’t clean energy because it generates lasting waste. For decades, good decisions have been taken by responsible politicians, local elected representatives have cooperated, and France is an example. We must continue along the path of stringency and excellence that we’ve marked out. We have the good fortune to have an invaluable player, Andra, which has a very important role to play.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

France has a nuclear industry that is among the very best, and I want to pay tribute to all those involved in it. It should enable us to move forward in terms of the energy transition.

This transition – which is the focus of a bill sponsored by the Ecology Minister, Mme Ségolène Royal, Sustainable Development and Energy, and approved by a very large majority at its first reading in the National Assembly yesterday – is a tremendous opportunity. Contrary to what we may be hearing, it’s not a punishment, either for households – whose spending power we want to protect – or for nuclear employees, who, I repeat, embody France’s industrial excellence. The energy transition is a source of dynamism for our economy, for its competitiveness and its growth. Finally, and above all – we’re all aware of this – it’s an imperative for protecting our environment and our planet.

In this area, we’ve set outselves major goals: to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% between now and 2030, to develop renewable energy to the level of 32%, and to diversify electricity production, with nuclear energy having a 50% share by 2025.

Our approach is pragmatic, because we have to prepare, anticipate and build tomorrow’s energy system. It’s not about pitting industries against each other! It’s about making them complementary, with one central goal: to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

France is a great power. A great energy power. A power that must be capable of making people work together and spurring on its partners. It will have the opportunity to do this in 2015 with the 21st Climate Conference, to be held in Paris. It’s a huge responsibility because, in the eyes of watchful and stringent citizens, countries must agree and commit.

The climate issue that is going to bring us together isn’t a national or even a European problem. It must also get away from traditional political divisions. It’s a global issue. An issue that concerns the whole of humanity. The young generations are watching us. So it’s up to us to build a sustainable, successful energy system for them. And we must build it with you, the economic, industrial, institutional players, and with the whole of society.

France is a great country, the world’s fifth-largest and Europe’s second-largest economic power. France carries weight in the world – history gave it this responsibility and its place on the United Nations [Security] Council –, and it shoulders its diplomatic and military responsibilities because we’re also a great economic and industrial nation.

Of course, we’re facing many challenges; we’ve been through the economic and financial crisis.

But we must be resolutely focused on the future for our economy, for the competitiveness of our businesses – SMEs, mid-caps, start-ups, mid-caps with family capital –both on national soil and on international markets.

So the nuclear industry you represent, the companies, researchers, employees, women and men who believe in it, who are proud of it, are not only an essential element, a strength, but also one of the conditions of France’s success and future. Thank you./

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