Gerard Renon, director of France's Atomic Energy Commission, has forecast a "resumption in the export of nuclear plants all over the world." No industrialized nation has exported a nuclear plant since 1980, when France concluded a contract to build a reactor in South Korea.
Renon, in a recent interview, said France is conducting "active negotiations" with China and Egypt for export of nuclear reactors. In addition, he said, Taiwan, Turkey, Pakistan and India have expressed interest in importing nuclear power plants.
Two trends that will encourage a worldwide rebound in the nuclear industry, Renon said, are the resumption of economic growth in the West, which in turn will underline the need to replace aging power plants, and a population surge that he thinks will come about in the developing world in the next 15 to 20 years.
Renon also discussed ways in which France's successful nuclear waste management program has helped bolster the French nuclear energy industry, which supplies nearly 20 percent of the country's energy needs. France has one of the world's strongest domestic nuclear energy industries.
During a current visit to the United States, Renon plans further discussions with officials on nuclear waste disposal, a subject of debate among nuclear energy critics.
Renon explained that French nuclear waste is managed in two ways. Low-grade waste is stored in containers above ground and covered with clay and dirt. This method has become so publicly acceptable in France, Renon said, that several mayors approached his commisssion saying, "We want to have waste storage in our area." The reason, Renon said, is that "waste storage brings jobs and money."
More hazardous waste will be stored in repositories more than 1,000 yards underground.
The United States has not yet adopted a uniform, workable method of nuclear waste disposal. But the U.S. nuclear industry has tested various approaches to waste management, including methods similar to those used by France.
One of the main reasons U.S. nuclear energy production has flagged in recent years, Renon said, is because of many "rational and irrational" biases against it. He emphasized that public acceptance in France is more widespread.
Renon said that if the U.S. industry is going to meet coming expansions in the market, "some reform must come about in the licensing process, and reactor designs must be standardized." U.S. manufacturers now take up to 15 years to build a reactor, compared to five years in France.