Thursday, June 18, 2009

J'aime l'Energie Nucléaire

J'aime l'Energie Nucléaire

Or Why Buckeyes Should Stop Hating the French and Start Learning to Love Nuclear Power

by John Michael Spinelli

June 17, 2009

COLUMBUS, OHIO: The French have a word for it: l'énergie nucléaire, or nuclear power. While the French are usually derided by red-blooded Americans as too sissified and certainly not able to defend themselves, they have mastered many crafts, from making chocolate and cheese to little cars and great fashion. Another important but cruder craft they have mastered, one America has not seen since the late 1970s and one Russia is still haunted by, is making safe, reliable and affordable nuclear power.

So When Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced Wednesday that a new nuclear power plant was the project Duke Energy and other partners including French nuclear powerhouse Areva were involved with, I didn't exactly breath a sigh of relief, but I was able to exhale knowing the Frenchies would bring their brand of producing and distributing nuclear power to the southern Ohio hills of Piketon, which has its battle scars and war stories to tell of its decades long involvement with the production of nuclear fuel.

Unlike America, where movies have been made of nuclear accidents and where nuclear accidents have in fact occurred, the French now accept nuclear power without question. Their familiarization with and support of nuclear power dates from the events in the Middle East in 1973 that PBS Frontline producer Jon Palfremanthey said was their response to the "oil shock"

His program, Why the French Like Nuclear Power, show how cozy and unfearful of the China Syndrome the baguette-eating crowd has come with nuclear power.

Ohio's history with nuclear power is not without blemishes, a contrast to the track record of our democracy-loving, cafe-sitting friends abroad.

In the heady days of Arab oil embargoes that took car-centric America by surprise, Palfremanthey said the quadrupling of the price of oil by OPEC nations was indeed a shock for France because at that time most of its electricity came from oil burning plants. France had and still has very few natural energy resources, he notes, summing up France's stock of natural reserves of oil and coal as very poor.

Nuclear energy was one avenue French policy makers took to make themselves energy independent. Ready to unleash and control the mighty power only nuclear power can produce, the French proceeded to introduce the most comprehensive national nuclear energy program in history. A statistic that Americans can only marvel at, is that 56 nuclear reactors were turned on over a period of 15 years. Such a wide spread program in a country the size of Texas was able to quench its domestic thirst and have enough left over to export to other European countries. More curious is that the technology the French used wasn't their own creation, but borrowed from the U.S. and replicated at each plan, making them less expensive to build that the hodgepodge of designs we have here.up

Where France has no coal, Ohio has huge reserves of the black rock. But burning Ohio coal creates toxic emissions that affect others as it drifts eastward to New England. So while burning Ohio coal keeps some miners employed, it creates substantial health problems down wind.

In addition to what Palfremanthey pegs as the pride of independence that everyone Frenchman is born with, is their central management of big technology projects. For the average Ohioan, talk of government being competent to undertake big projects smacks of socialism. But for the French, big national projects like supersonic jets and high-speed rail, done and managed well, are par for the course.

Another big difference is the mindset Americans and French have toward scientists, engineers and lawyers. In America, lawyers rule. In France, scientists and engineers are generally looked upon highly as are educators. The average Frenchman respects and trusts technocrats, whereas the average American probably wants them fired because they represent the kind of big government some have been taught to despise.

Ohioans can also take a lesson from how the French dealt with their fear of nuclear waste and what to do with it. In addition to reusing nuclear waste in ways that delayed eventually having to deposit it safely somewhere, the French became less skittish about it when they learned that instead of burying it somewhere forever, it could be accessed in the future when future advances could better deal with it.

The alliance of companies working to build the Southern Ohio Clean Energy Park says the 700 jobs needed to operate the facility may not materialize for another ten years or more. So while the announcement is good news, it will do little now to help Ohioans who have lost their jobs as Ohio's economy twists in the wind from faltering auto sales and a national recession that is slowing but still dangerous.

John Michael Spinelli is a Certified Economic Development Financing Professional, business and travel writer and former credentialed Ohio Statehouse political reporter. He is registered to lobby in Ohio and is the Director of Ohio Operations for Tubular Rail Inc. Spinelli on Assignment is syndicated by, can be followed on Twitter at OhioNewsBureau and available for subscription to Kindle owners. To send a news tip or make comment, email

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