It’s not often that I find myself recommending a French state-owned industry as the answer to major U.S. problems, but I guess there’s an exception to every rule.
In this case the exception is the French nuclear energy company Areva, which provides about 80 percent of the country’s electricity from 58 nuclear power plants, is building a new generation of reactor that will come on line at Flamanville in 2012, and is exporting its expertise to countries from China to the United Arab Emirates.
Contrast that with the United States, where just 20 percent of electricity comes from nuclear plants, no commercial reactor has come on line since 1996, no new reactor has been ordered for decades, and debate about nuclear power remains paralyzing despite its clean-air electricity generation in the age of global warming.
Areva is headed by Anne Lauvergeon, a brilliant product of France’s top schools. She’s earned the sobriquet “Atomic Anne,” a stylish “Vive les Nukes” saleswoman. The United States needs her equivalent to cut through its nuclear power hang-ups.
Those hesitations have been evident in this election year. Among Democrats, Barack Obama has shown most willingness (albeit guarded) to back nuclear power, with Hillary Clinton multiplying caveats and John Edwards opposed. Republican candidates are favorable, but the campaign suggests costly nuclear muddle will persist.
It’s time to look to the French. They’ve got their heads in the right place, with nuclear power enjoying a 70 percent approval rating. The Germans, by contrast, have gone silly-Green and are shunning nuclear power. The British, more smart-Green, are reviving their plants.
I know, that word “nuclear” still sends a frisson. Images multiply of Hiroshima and Chernobyl and the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 and waste in dangerous perpetuity, not to mention proliferation and dirty bombs.
But the lesson of the post-9/11 world is that we have to get over our fears, especially irrational ones.