Every truly effective leader possesses and is able to clearly articulate a vision of a desirable future. In Paris yesterday French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented just such a vision in his speech to the International Conference on Access to Nuclear Energy.
In his speech Sarkozy reiterated France’s support for the continued development of nuclear energy throughout the world. However, Sarkozy made an even more important pronouncement: aggressive development of technologies such as nuclear power is key to lifting the developing nations out of poverty and increasing the net wealth of the planet.
The French president quoted recent studies showing that the world’s energy needs will increase by the year 2030, with much of that increase taking place in non-OECD countries. He actively encouraged organizations such as The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and The World Bank to play a major role in funding the construction of new nuclear power plants in these regions. He also demanded that the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism specifically include nuclear energy projects among the “green” energy sources it recommends to non-OECD countries.
Mindful of the public’s apprehension about nuclear safety, President Sarkozy suggested that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) develop guidelines for reactor safety and a ratings system for reactor designs. He also mentioned that we must address the issue of the reprocessing and recycling of recovered fuel materials. As mentioned in an earlier column, there are new reactors coming online which will run on recycled nuclear fuel. San Diego-based General Atomics’ planned new reactor, which will run on nuclear waste, will be functional within twelve years.
Of course, the French president’s own candidate for best new nuclear plant design is the one France’s own Areva has developed. Areva has designed the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), a third-generation reactor design that France considers the most advanced in the world.
There are signs that nuclear power development also plays a role in fostering more cooperative attitude among countries, even those that have a history of tensions. Israel recently proposed jointly building in the Negev desert a nuclear power plant in cooperation with neighboring Arab states. France would supervise and provide the technology for the project.
Sarkozy presented a powerful vision of technology as a catalyst for global economic progress. If the OECD countries truly care about improving the world’s economies, they must dedicate themselves to developing and implementing cutting-edge technologies in all fields, including agriculture, biotech, manufacturing, and communications. In the field of energy, Sarkozy stated, nuclear power is that technology.