Central Valley

Nuclear-energy developer has eyes on Valley

Nuclear energy may not come to the San Joaquin Valley for years, but a French nuclear executive wants her company to be involved in making it happen.

"I can see California will be among the first of many states to establish a clean energy park with both renewable [energy] and nuclear," said Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon, whose company is one of the leading developers of nuclear power plants in the world.

Areva and the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group are working on plans for two 1,600-megawatt reactors to generate electricity in western Fresno County as part of a 5,000-acre energy park.

In addition to a nuclear plant to generate enough power for between 500,000 and 700,000 homes, the park would include a large solar/steam power plant.

Standing in the way are worries over radioactive waste, water use and reactor safety -- and a decades-old moratorium on development of new nuclear power plants in California.

Speaking to Fresno business leaders Tuesday, Lauvergeon said the nuclear industry "must take those concerns seriously and deal with them honestly."

Lauvergeon said the world is in an energy revolution, moving from an oil-based economy to one marked by population growth and a realization of global climate change from oil's carbon emissions.

"The solutions are already in our hands," she said, citing solar, wind and wave energy in addition to nuclear power.

"Nuclear opponents say we have to choose [between nuclear and renewables] ... but these are complementary," Lauvergeon said.

Other Areva executives told reporters earlier Tuesday that the Fresno plant -- for which no site has been selected -- could generate thousands of jobs, including in industries attracted to the area by the plant.

The solar portion of the energy park would likely be developed sooner, said Michael Rencheck, chief operating officer of Areva North America.

In France, where Areva is based, nuclear power accounts for about 80% of the electricity, said Jacques Besnainou, CEO of Areva North America.

Lauvergeon said Italy and Sweden shunned nuclear power in the 1980s, but are now moving ahead with development of plants to meet their energy needs.

The Fresno plant would require an estimated $5.5 billion to build, Fresno Nuclear Energy Group President John Hutson said.