AREVA: Sinners, Saints, or Just Big Business?

Sometimes I miss the bleeding obvious.

When I recently wrote Renewable Reality Checks With No Nuclear Balances, I made the following point in discussing the awarding of funding under the Australian Government Solar Flagships Program:

Three quarters of a billion dollars has just been committed to transfer from the Australian Government to the private sector. These projects are not run by Mum and Dad community collectives. We are talking the likes of BP here people.

Well, it turn out we are also talking the likes of AREVA. While BP have their hands in Moree Solar Farm, the Solar Dawn project is the baby of AREVA Renewable. What else does AREVA happen to do? You get one guess…

The range of reactors offered by AREVA meets all client needs, from the introduction to nuclear power to the industrial production of competitive and low-carbon electricity.

AREVA offers a portfolio of three reactor models intended for use in nuclear power plants: EPR™, ATMEA1 and KERENA. These are latest generation (III+) pressurized and boiling water reactors. They allow electricity providers to achieve their competitiveness, safety and power generation capacity objectives. The power range of these reactors goes from 1,100 MWe to more than 1,650 MWe.

AREVA also offers a range of low-power reactors (the power range goes from 2 to 100 MWth). These multi-purpose models are designed for training, research and nuclear medicine (radio isotopes production). In particular, they are suitable for plant operators who want to prepare for the implementation of a nuclear power program.

Here’s the link. It gets better though. AREVA’s Nuclear Sales and Services Group accounts for 37% of the group’s operating revenue. It is outshone only by the Mining-Front End Business Group with 41%. In case you are wondering, this business group is responsible for “all nuclear operations leading up to actual electricity production: prospecting, mining and concentration of uranium; conversion into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), uranium enrichment and finally nuclear fuel production.” Between them, these two business groups did around 7 billion euro in sales last year. 

The Renewables Group, on the other hand, accounts for just 2% of revenue, 150 million Euro. But believe it or not, the story gets better again.

Of that 2%, how much of AREVA’s sales are in Concentrating Solar Thermal of the type they will be constructing down under? Drumroll please…1%. Yes, you heard it here first. The Solar Dawn Project is applying a technology that accounts for a whopping 0.02% of AREVA’s sales revenue.

Woof.

So, let’s recap. Australia, via the awarding of the first $750m of funding under Solar Flagships has just thrown open the doors to:

  1. An oil company
  2. A nuclear power company

It may not be reported that way, but it’s a fact; one we should probably get comfortable with.

I’m reminded of a recent comment by George Monbiot:

Nuclear operators worldwide have been repeatedly exposed as a bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags.

In this respect they are, of course, distinguished from the rest of the energy industry, which is run by collectives of self-abnegating monks whose only purpose is to spread a little happiness. How they ended up sharing the names and addresses of some of the nuclear companies is a mystery that defies explanation.

My point is pretty simple. Those who retain concerns that nuclear power is “big business”, and seek to buck the system by insisting on renewables, please just be aware of the following. Billion dollar energy investments, such as we need to decarbonise, whatever the technology, is nothing but big business. Corporations are the vehicles for getting things like that done, be it solar, nuclear or other. In all cases, we deserve vigilant governance to ensure citizens get the best outcome. That is irrespective of the technology. They are not evil and irresponsible on the days they build nuclear or drill for oil, and then wonderful corporate citizens saving the world on the days they build solar panels. We tell them what type of energy we want, and they provide. It’s roughly that simple.

The Areva TMEA1 1,100MW Pressurised Water Reactor

One last thing before I go… I’d bet the farm that if the Government program was called “Zero-Carbon Flagships” instead of “Solar Flagships”, AREVA could have delivered a whole lot more zero-carbon value for money than Solar Dawn… just a thought.

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18 thoughts on “AREVA: Sinners, Saints, or Just Big Business?

  1. intuitivereason

    Even if it is just a renewable project at this stage, won’t hurt one bit to have some ‘arm-twisting thugs’ around with more than a passing interest in selling the remainder of their portfolio. : )

    That scale of power station would suit SA pretty well. You ought to see if you can get someone from AREVA to comment on the best option for the replacement of your coal stations.

    Reply
  2. Podargus

    I’ll consider getting excited when I hear of the likes of BHP Billiton,Rio Tinto,Xstrata and other big coal companies seeing the writing on the wall and buying into nuclear power station construction.

    Reply
    1. Rod Adams (@Atomicrod)

      Podargus – in the US, a number of prominent petroleum companies bought into the fuel cycle portion of the nuclear business until they realized that uranium was way too abundant to treat in the boom and bust, scarcity followed by plenty, business model that has made them so fabulously wealthy.

      My analysis indicates that the fossil fuel companies are far more likely to be investing in the antinuclear industry than in the nuclear industry for the foreseeable future. That is mainly because nuclear energy is the only real alternative that has proven that it can capture market share, increase the overall supply of energy, and drive down the prices and profitability of their primary line of business.

      Though they are both energy sources, the core competencies are vastly different due to the nature of the fuel source. The world consumption of mined uranium is only about 70,000 tons per year, a quantity that is vanishingly small compared to the six billion tons of coal consumed every year that is matched by a similar quantity of oil and natural gas.

      Fossil fuel company capital is tied up in large land leases, drilling rigs, tanks, ships, pipelines, refineries, pumping stations, and other assets that distribute their product around the world. Those assets are worthless in the nuclear industry where intellectual property and skilled human beings are the key assets.

      Reply
    1. Podargus

      intuitivereason,I have no idea what the multinationals buy into but that is not the point of my brief comment.

      My point is that until a sufficient proportion of the movers and shakers in the world are convinced,by sudden inexplicable access to long term thinking or by government pressure,that their present mode of business is not sustainable then there is little hope of achieving a change to clean energy.

      Reply
  3. wilful

    One thing that shits me (oh I admit it, it’s a very long list) is how many culture warriors from the left want to use climate change as their special vehicle to achieve major social change.

    Me personally I’d probably be described as centre-left (not that I’m comfortable with labels), particularly socially, so while I’m mostly sympathetic to their end goals, I’m very cross at how they pollute the discussion and muddy the waters of action on climate change, making real progress in society difficult. This is a bit of a case in point – solar PV is often touted as being beneficial simply because it’s highly distributed and not centralised. But where’s the net cost benefit analysis in that? Where’s the evidence that this improves anything? Nuclear power, being best built large, is considered inherently evil simply because it’s corporate. Not a good enough argument I’m afraid.

    (All that said, far more opprobrium can and should be heaped on the Right, who have, not universally but generally, rejected science and rationality. A far bigger problem. And why did science become so politicised anyway? meanwhile, carbon pricing is the most orthodox of economic solutions, while “direct action” is a straight play from the Soviet Union’s Five year plan economic framework or Mao’s Great Leap Forward)

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      The strange advantage with the Right being that they seem quite comfortable with nuclear, and happily defer to science to support their position. I think a lot of the Left opposition comes from a place of “With whom must I disagree?” and to borrow your words, not a good enough argument, and one I am trying to break down. It’s point 7 in my presentation, where I fess up to part of my previous opposition to nuclear being driven in from the fact that John Howard supported it! Immature, intellectually vacuous, but true, and I admit it to help others get over the hump.

      Reply
      1. wilful

        Immature and intellectually vacuous, sure Ben, but don’t beat yourself up about it, Howard’s support appeared to me far more about wedging the Labor Party rather than any actual policy commitment.

        Reply
  4. wilful

    Another example from the left that I can’t stand is the hair shirt view that we cannot and should not have any internationally tradeable carbon permits, that 100 percent of abatement must happen domestically. Why? Just because it seems.

    I accept that there can be methodological issues (well, blatant fraud) but that’s not their prime case.

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      Well, I am more sympathetic to that one. I like the trading because in terms of quick wins, it’s potentially from things like avoided deforestation with all associated biodiversity benefits, whereas there can be long project lead time to actually close and replace stuff in Australia. This also shifts money from rich to poor to reward them for environmental services, which is great in principle. I’m concerned about that running on too long, and concerned about social justice should, for example, local people with legitimate uses find themseleves locked out of forests because we now own the carbon. But these are things to be managed. I think capping it at 50% for Australia may prove to have been wise.

      Reply
  5. Andrew Starcevic

    “They are not evil and irresponsible on the days they build nuclear or drill for oil, and then wonderful corporate citizens saving the world on the days they build solar panels.”

    Unfortunately these companies seem almost embarrassed by their nuclear divisions. Consider the “two letters” campaign by that heroic renewables start-up, GE. No mention of GE’s five letters that might actually make a difference: ESBWR.

    Reply
  6. theanphibian (@theanphibian)

    I’m a little confused about your message. Are you bitter that the companies with significant resources and power don’t invest more into the kind of clean technology you like?

    Face it, the investment of 2% solar versus much more into mining and nuclear is only representative of the energy market as a whole. Areva desires only a strong bottom line and earnings sustainability. In order to do that, their investments will be in line with what the politics points us to. In that respect, I whole-heatedly agree with you that it is the choice of the citizens of the world and our governments to direct the investments of the energy giants like Areva. What’s more, Areva doesn’t even care where we get our energy from as long as they can sell the units with a margin.

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      Oh, that’s interesting, no you probably have missed my message. Maybe the article was geared towards regular readers.

      My message was aimed squarely at those who seem to want to embrace renewables because nuclear is evil “big business”. I get that quite a lot, so I found it extraordinary that our first round of solar funding went to the world’s biggest nuclear company! A read of the pre-cursor article “Renewable Reality Checks…” will probably make my position a lot clearer to you.

      I’m in pretty much full agreement with you comment, and as I allude at the conclusion, I only wish AREVA were free to offer us their full range of zero-carbon products, rather than being confined to the smallest bit of their business when operating in Australia.

      Reply
      1. theanphibian (@theanphibian)

        lol, yes, I had thought you were an anti-nuclear blog, but obviously because I didn’t read carefully enough nor did I take enough pause at what I now see is a giant atom as the header for your blog.

        I got here from the Areva blog, which made a post about your post. Indeed solar thermal is done by big business. Big business makes big projects and big thermal plants.

        I’m sure Areva would sell nuclear plants to Australia if Australia decided so. Governments pretty much make the decision of which power plants to buy, whether or not they overtly intend to or not. There does not exist an electric service area where the decisions are really up to the free market.

        Reply
        1. Decarbonise SA Post author

          Heh heh, yeah I didn’t want to point out the great big atom straight away! The tone of the article though was deliberately non-committal, as I was trying to make the “business is business” so I get your confusion.

          I hope you enjoyed the article though, please come back and bring your friends!

          Reply
  7. Pingback: A debate we have to have- the wrap up of CEDA in Perth | Decarbonise SA

  8. Pingback: Environment and Conservation News | The latest news from the frontlines of Conservation and Environmental Activism

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