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French fight for nuclear in California

Sarah Gardner Mar 30, 2010

French fight for nuclear in California

Sarah Gardner Mar 30, 2010


Bill Radke: Is this country seeing a “nuclear renaissance?” President Obama has announced loan guarantees for two new reactors in Georgia, and some say that could be just the beginning. Try telling that to California. As Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, the French are trying to break down California’s nuclear resistance.

Sarah Gardner: California’s ban on new nuclear reactors has held strong since 1976. Just ask Republican assemblyman Chuck DeVore:

Chuck DeVore: Well I’ve drafted five bills over the last four years to try to allow for the construction of modern nuclear power plants in California and have been defeated every time.

DeVore also abandoned a voter initiative to lift the moratorium. But those failures don’t intimidate the French.

Jacques Besnainou: We want to build in California near Fresno.

Jacques Besnainou is CEO of Areva North America. Areva is the world’s largest builder of nuclear plants. It’s based in France, a country that gets thre- quarters of its power from nuclear. Areva and its U.S. partners say they intend to build new reactors in central California. Besnainou argues if the most populous state really wants to cut global warming emissions, solar and wind won’t cut it.

Besnainou: Because you need power even when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. So nuclear energy is a great source of carbon-free energy. It runs 24/7.

Californians seem more sympathetic to nuclear power than they used to be. A statewide poll last summer showed 46 percent of Californians support more nuclear reactors, up from 37 percent just a few years before. But:

Marshall Cohen: California will be tough.

Nuclear lobbyist Marshall Cohen:

Cohen: The legislature, the way it’s set up right now, it’s tough to make something happen and get something through.

Republican Chuck DeVore insists that’s because groups like the Sierra Club have “a lock” on state Democratic lawmakers. He says a more likely scenario is that Areva asks the courts to overturn the ban after California denies its request to build.

Perhaps that’s partly why Areva’s Jacques Besnainou doesn’t see new reactors in California anytime soon. “We’re just at the beginning,” he says, “of a very, long, long process.”

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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