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The French Nuclear Industry Is Bad Enough in France; Let's Not Expand It to the U.S.

Areva, France's nuclear industry, has a solid reputation, but a trail of radioactive waste and deaths in Africa follow its wake.

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The company's U.S. plans also extend to new reactors, where it hopes to grab at least 33 percent of the U.S. market according to its Web site. This includes a proposal for seven of its unproven "generation three" design, the Evolutionary Power Reactor, billed as the world's largest reactor. (It is called the European Pressurized Reactor everywhere but the U.S.)

Seven EPR reactors are slated for six U.S. sites, although so far only two sites -- at Calvert Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Calloway near St. Louis -- have filed initial applications. George Vanderheyden, chief executive for UniStar, the company hoping to build the EPR at Calvert Cliffs, says the EPR "will be one of the most expensive technologies in the United States to build." UniStar has partnered with the French state electricity company, lectricit de France (EDF), on the project. However, cost may not be the only challenge.

The two Areva EPR reactors under way -- in Finland and France -- have already run into trouble. The Finnish reactor at the Olkiluoto nuclear site started first, in August 2005, but has already fallen three years behind schedule after safety and quality-assurance problems with the piping, containment liner and concrete base slab were discovered. This has put the Finnish EPR 50 percent over budget at a current estimated cost of at least $6.7 billion. Areva partner Siemens has pulled out of the project, leaving Areva to buy out Siemens' share at an estimated cost to the company of $2.6 billion.

When construction began in December 2007 on a second EPR at the Flamanville site in France on the Normandy coast, similar problems quickly arose. By the summer of 2008, the French security agency had shut down the construction site -- managed by EDF -- due to safety concerns about technical and quality-control problems with the reinforced steel used in the concrete base. EDF insists the Flamanville EPR will open on schedule in 2012 despite news reports that put the project nine months behind schedule after just nine months of construction. But in early March this year, EDF ran afoul of the European Commission, which raided the company's offices, suspecting EDF of antitrust violations and illegal price hikes.

EDF has come into the public spotlight before. In May 2006, a confidential security report prepared by EDF was leaked to French activists and the media. The document claimed to show that because the EPR could withstand the impact of a military jet it could also defend against a commercial jet airliner.

But when analyzed by John Large, an independent nuclear engineer in the U.K., these claims were deemed to be "entirely unjustified." Large said the documents showed the EPR had "an almost total lack of preparation to defend against the inevitability of a terrorist attack."

Congress and the White House have not yet been asked why they will allow U.S. tax dollars to flow to a French corporation for new nuclear projects on U.S. soil. Or why so many new nuclear installations are even needed when the cheaper, cleaner and safer alternatives of renewable energy are readily available. And especially why they will allow U.S. tax dollars to enrich a corporation with such an ugly track record on human rights.

Before another genocide in Africa is too late to stop, it is time those questions were asked.

Linda Gunter is the co-founder of Beyond Nuclear .

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