Word from the President
On June 22nd, I attended the joint ENS-SFEN Young Generation Forum in Paris. All our readers know the importance of the young generation in our 23 member societies: they are the future of nuclear energy in Europe and beyond. The forum was held in “la Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie” at La Villette, in the northern part of Paris. It was a special privilege for me to open the event as ENS President, all the more since I grew up in the vicinity of La Villette in the mid fifties, when la “Cité des Sciences” was still thirty years ahead. But let me quote my own words:
“Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is customary to begin such a speech by thanking the organizers, Sophie Missirian at SFEN and Eileen RADDE at ENS, both chair ladies of the young generation networks for inviting the first speaker. This, I will not fail to do. But my reasons will be somewhat non conventional.
The first reason is both related to youth (you in the audience), and to my own life. Indeed, I grew up less than a mile away from this very spot in La Cité des Sciences at la Villette. It was in the mid fifties and the early sixties. This was still an immigration suburb where butchery was practiced at a large scale, maybe you will have time to take a look at the transformed XIXth century buildings during the 3 days of the conference: Avenue du Charolais and la Grande Halle, only a 15 minute walk from this building. In those days, the Paris circular highway did not exist, it was under early construction stage. France was evolving rapidly from its post war colonial empire. Of course the internet was 40 to 50 years away, even conventional copper wire telephones were quite scarce for the ordinary Frenchman or woman.
Nuclear did exist however first for military applications since our great political leader of the time wanted independence from the Americans. They had nearly pushed him into political oblivion during the Second World War and he could not trust them completely in all nuclear matters as the English leaders would do, on the other side of the channel.
On the civilian side, generation one small power reactors were commissioned with natural uranium as fuel and graphite as moderator. Later, in the late seventies we switched to what was at the time a leading American technology: the Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR’s) of the Westinghouse design. It is now forgotten that it took us some time in France, De Gaulle had already left power when it happened and we were quite successful. In a very short period of time we built 54 Westinghouse licensed reactors and 4 on our own with Framatome. Most of you know them under the name of Generation 2 reactors and we plan to extend their lifetime up to 60 years, which would bring the most recent units the N4 at Civaux and Chooz well beyond 2050. Of course we were not alone in Europe to deploy nuclear power for electricity generation. Western and northern countries did the same not only with gas graphite reactors (the British), with PWR’s but also with Boiling Water Reactors, the BWR’s. Central and Eastern Europe (and also Finland at Loviisa) adopted Russian designs, the VVER’s which in Russian means something similar to Pressurized Water Reactors. There were also a limited number of graphite reactors, the RBMK’s now shut down, Ignalinia in Lithuania and Candu technology with heavy water in Romania, to the East on the Cernavoda site.
But this is the past, and one cannot live only by looking in the mirror at past history all the more when speaking to an audience of young people, the young generation of 23 nuclear societies all around Europe. The present is both a divided Europe, evenly split into 2 halves about nuclear energy and a massive energy transformation underway because of climate change. It is quite relevant that you and the organizers have chosen the theme of climate change and nuclear as a key part of the solution in the fight against those problems for your bi annual gathering. Let me comment that the energy transformation has its own name in the different European countries and that it is led and pursued according to the political cultures of the 28 Member States. To speak first of the major countries, Die Energie Wende in Germany was decided by the political leadership, Kanzlerin Merkel in a few weeks in 2011. In my own country France, the new law Transition Energétique pour la Croissance Verte, the first part of which can be translated as Energy Transition took months and months of debate, I would say a good 2 years. It is not yet in force, even though the legislative process is nearing completion1. In Europe the Commission has both to lead the climate change energy transformation and to respect the founding treaties which recognize energy choices as a fundamental right and prerogative of each of the 28 Member States. This is why it has come up with the concept of energy union and its main objectives all climate change compatible, with low carbon technologies and energy sources, with a sophisticated governance mechanism and with European wide debates about market design. Let me point out that nuclear is present in the wider European energy debate, through its European Nuclear Energy Forum a high level meeting of ministers, company CEO’s, high level representatives of the civil society, Directors General of main European associations. Its last plenary was held in Praha, Czech Republic at the end of May. The Czech Energy Minister Mr. Mladek concluded among other things that Nuclear Energy has its place in the European Union Energy Portfolio and that a market design favorable for nuclear investment has not yet been achieved. It needs further work which I hope is underway in Europe and at the Commission.
There is another upcoming political event at the end of this year in Paris : the twenty first Conference of Parties which you know under its acronym: COP 21. It is established under a United Nations Framework to fight Climate Change and it is the precise meaning of another acronym, UNFCC. It is important because of the urgency to act and because past COP gatherings have not achieved sufficient commitments from the Green House Gas emitting countries to reduce emissions and reach what experts consider as a tolerable level, synthetized in the 2°C scenario. One of today’s speakers, Madame Masson Delmotte will give you more information about that. It is hoped but it is only a hope at the present stage of negotiations that more substantial commitments will be reached this year getting our future planet on a safer course. Reaching some kind of agreement between 196 countries, the parties to the United Nations Framework is not an easy task. It is mostly a task for the Parties themselves, their political leaders and the technical negotiators they have designated. However, all of us in this room Young or not so Young have a part to play, even if we are several levels below the negotiators.
For nearly 30 years your elders (and that includes me) have been convinced that nuclear is a low carbon technology, that it does note emit CO2 when generating nuclear heat even though carbon dioxide is emitted when the materials to build a nuclear plant are fabricated (steel, concrete, other alloys, fuel oxides and so forth). Therefore, yes we believe that nuclear is a key part of the solution to climate change problems. Have we been good at convincing others ? Well honestly, we the elders think not so much :
The community of climate change experts and negociators which is a wide and respected community coined a sentence, a saying at a previous conference
“DO NOT NUKE THE CLIMATE”
And it was not only a saying, it had financial implications, important ones.
This is why we, the elders and their nuclear industry need you the young generation of the European nuclear societies to better formulate the message with all the tools your generation can muster : the web, the social networks, instant image, photographs and video projections using the afore media….. And of course and above all, we need your personal conviction.
Technicalities of why nuclear is part of the solution, a key part, I would say, I will leave to my distinguished friend and colleague, CEA Nuclear Energy Director Christophe BEHAR. He is due to speak this afternoon, just after lunch.
I can see in your program that you will be covering many important subjects concerning nuclear energy in the next 3 days : nuclear waste, geological disposal in the northern countries and societal impact tomorrow, changing electricity markets and the role of nuclear energy in the change on Wednesday and Generation IV Reactors and closed fuel cycle, that should also be on Wednesday.
They are all important to shape the future of nuclear energy, the future that belongs to you, the Young Generation of the European Nuclear Societies.”
1The speech was delivered on June 22. The energy transition law was voted by the French Parliament a month later, at the end of July 2015.