Home Europe France to the US: Leave the tiny nuclear reactors to us

France to the US: Leave the tiny nuclear reactors to us

by editor

BRUSSELS — The latest global atomic race is pitting two nuclear powerhouses against one another: France and the United States. 

The European Union this week unveiled a new industrial alliance to kick-start the manufacturing of so-called small nuclear reactors — a product that barely exists but that proponents insist could revolutionize nuclear power. 

For Europe, the idea is simple: Join forces to beat competitors like China and Russia in the race to develop these bitesize siblings of conventional atomic plants. The hope is that the miniature reactors could eventually be made on an automobile-style conveyor belt at a fraction of the cost and time that have historically burdened nuclear plants.

But for France, there’s a major problem with Europe’s plan: America’s involved.

“It’s a European alliance,” said French MEP Christophe Grudler, who hails from the same party as French President Emmanuel Macron, so the EU must “make sure Americans don’t stick their noses in.”

Valérie Faudon, who heads France’s nuclear energy society agrees. “This is really a matter of European sovereignty,” she said.

Their distaste is rooted, at least partly, in the fact that the U.S. is a major competitor to Europe — and France especially — in the scramble to craft mini-nuclear reactors. 

Macron is betting big on mini-nukes. He envisions them playing an important role in France’s nuclear relaunch, and his government has earmarked €130 million to subsidize 11 mini-nuclear projects — helping everyone from startups to French energy giant EDF. The goal is to get the first prototype built by 2030.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is also striving to get production off the ground. 

The EU’s idea is that these allies can all work together in the face of an intensifying rivalry with Russia and particularly China, which has already cornered the market on key solar and battery technology.

“Global competition is picking up pace,” EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said at the first meeting of the group in Brussels on Wednesday. “It’s the alliance’s role to help position Europe in that race and ensure our technological and industrial capacity.”

The U.S. insists there’s enough mini-nuke business for everyone. 

“Global competition is picking up pace,” EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said. | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

“There are areas where there’s good, friendly, but robust competition,” David Turk, U.S. Deputy Secretary for Energy, told POLITICO in an interview last week. “I don’t think there’s a problem with that.”

He added: “There’s an awfully big pie out there.”

Keep it in Europe

The pie may be big, but Europe has already seen the U.S. get a few bites of its nuclear energy market.

In 2022, EDF lost a juicy contract to build a traditional nuclear power plant in Poland to an American competitor, Westinghouse — a heavy blow for France’s energy powerhouse, which is heavily indebted and in dire need of fresh cash.  

Situations like that have fueled calls to keep the small-scale reactor alliance in European hands. Grudler, the French MEP, favors a “two-levels alliance,” in which foreign companies with European branches would be allowed to join, but key positions would be reserved for European members.

For now, the European Commission has received more than 300 applications to join the initiative, which is meant to help firms set up a European supply chain for these mini-nuclear reactors. So far, the applicants are largely European, but some notable U.S. companies are also in the mix, including General Electric and Westinghouse.

The American firms say they come in peace.

“We’re not here to infiltrate anything, we’re here to add value where it might be lacking,” said Laurent Vansoen, Westinghouse’s European head of public affairs. To ensure that this largely untested technology actually develops, Vansoen added, “it’s better to work together.”

It doesn’t look like they’re being heard. According to several industry players, French companies are expected to reap a string of key positions within the industrial alliance, and most — if not all — of these will likely be put in European hands.

Yet experts say it’s not in Europe’s best interest to go it alone.

According to Sylvain Cognet-Dauphin, energy analyst at S&P Global, “Europe is late in the game” on the miniature reactors anyway. So it would be better to team up with Washington, he said, to avoid lagging even further behind global rivals.

Nicolas Camut reported from Paris.

Source link

Related Posts