French Company Areva, World Leader in Nuclear Energy, to Restart Japanese Nuclear Plants

Guards at Fukushima nuclear plant 1 in April 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Steve Herman

Guards at Fukushima nuclear plant 1 in April 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Steve Herman

Just a week prior to the second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear tragedy of March 11, 2011, the CEO of Areva, the French leader company in Nuclear Energy, announced plans to restart six Japanese nuclear reactors by the end of 2013. CEO Luc Boursel declared on Monday, March 4 that the impact of this tragedy did not so much affect the development of the global market for nuclear reactors, but simply “brought it forward in time.”

Boursel added that Areva sees itself as a “reference for the safety of nuclear reactors, whether we built them or not.” The French company takes up almost half of the global market for nuclear energy and is planning to invest 200 million euros in four buildings to serve as crisis control centers for three of its nuclear plants in France.

The Japanese Kyodo press is less optimistic about the revival of their country’s nuclear power. The people of Japan, to whom the Fukushima tragedy is still fresh, are hesitant over the possibility of renewed risk. Protests were organized until the last of Japan’s nuclear reactors was shut down on May 5, 2012.

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Japan. The tsunami waters flooded the Fukushima power plant, which, having anticipated the arrival of the quake and tsunami, had already defueled one of their six reactors, while two others were in the process of shutting down and the remaining three had shut down automatically.

Problems occurred when the tsunami flooded the basement in which emergency generators were located, causing these to fail and cut all power needed for the cool circulating pumps. The cooling system is indispensable for the shutdown process, as it is meant to keep the reactors from overheating. Due to this system failure, the reactors overheated because of the heat from radioactive decay, which finally resulted in reactor meltdown.

The resultant controversies were over the delay in ordering sea water flooding, which would have been the only way to cool the reactors and avoid, or at least curtail, explosions in the reactors. The concern was that salt water would damage the costly reactors produced by General Electric in the United States.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster resulted in huge amounts of radioactive materials released into the surrounding sea, land, and population centers. It was the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.

A year after the disaster, Japanese officials realized that, apart from nuclear power, the country has no other means to ensure sufficient electric energy supply. Prior to Fukushima Daiichi, the island relied on nuclear power for 30% of the country’s electricity, and had plans to increase this to 40% by 2017.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is in favor of restarting the country’s nuclear plants. In July, a meeting will be held to decide on new nuclear regulations, and Abe declared that those nuclear plants that pass the new safety standards will be able to restart within a year. This will follow the installation of new safety equipment. It is said that Chubu’s Hamaoko Nuclear plant, in central Japan, is spending $1.7 billion on seawall defenses, expected to be complete by the end of 2013.

Areva’s CEO is enthusiastic over the planned safety installments in Japan, and the company is expecting to sell up to $260 million worth of safety equipment by the end of 2013. Areva had been one of the main providers of nuclear fuel cells for Japanese power plants, and therefore the revival of these is critical, the company believes.

Greenpeace recently confirmed that Areva will be shipping the first batch of mixed oxide nuclear fuel from Cherbourg, France to Japan in early April. This announcement, along with Abe’s plans to restart the nuclear program, has triggered large anti-nuclear protests in Japan as the anniversary of the disaster approaches.

Meanwhile, Areva is looking bring to market new technologies that would extend nuclear plant life beyond the usual 30 to 40 years expected of current French plants.

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