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French Nuclear Developer Runs Afoul of U.S. Federal Law, Undermines U.S. Nonproliferation Goals

Oct. 27, 2010

French Nuclear Developer Runs Afoul of U.S. Federal Law, Undermines U.S. Nonproliferation Goals

Statement of Allison Fisher, Outreach Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program 

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group has walked away from nuclear power, but its former nuclear partner, Electricite de France (EDF) Group, based in France, is refusing to abandon the project intended to open up the U.S. market to risky French reactors. 

On Tuesday, Constellation and EDF finalized a deal to give the French-controlled corporation full ownership of the proposed third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs, Md., by selling Constellation’s 50 percent stake in the Unistar nuclear-development company.  

The agreement appears to resuscitate EDF’s nuclear ambitions in the U.S. after the project was jeopardized by Constellation’s withdrawal from negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy for a federally backed loan guarantee. A loan guarantee has been the essential vehicle for financing the proposed $10 billion reactor.

However, with EDF as the sole entity, the loan guarantee is no longer the foremost factor that will determine whether a third reactor is built in Maryland. EDF faces several other obstacles that should keep this project from moving forward, including a federal law that prohibits a foreign entity from “ownership, control or domination” of a U.S. nuclear project.

Public Citizen and its partners – the Nuclear Information Resource Service and Beyond Nuclear – are challenging the application for the proposed third reactor in front of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Even before Constellation sold its stake in Unistar, the group filed a complaint with the NRC, raising the issue of overt foreign influence in the Maryland project.

Other regulatory issues also plague the project. The EPR, the reactor design at the center of the project, is designed by another French-controlled entity, AREVA. Myriad issues with the EPR design have resulted in delays and cost overruns for reactor development in Finland, whose costs have now risen about 80 percent and whose four-year construction schedule is now four years behind schedule, and in France, whose project is two years behind schedule and about 30 percent over budget. And U.S. regulatory bodies have yet to certify the design, citing deficiencies with its digital instrumentation and control systems.

If these problems weren’t enough, collaborating with the French nuclear industry also undermines U.S. nonproliferation goals. EDF is the largest nuclear developer in the world. It offers civilian nuclear assistance to both Saudi Arabia and Jordan, despite both countries’ refusal to engage in U.S. negotiations to keep the countries from making nuclear fuel. Meanwhile, EDF is seeking U.S. taxpayer-funded loan guarantees to pay for its U.S.-based projects. The federal government should not be supporting a foreign entity that is unwilling to adhere to our national security objectives.

In addition to the unique issues associated with the proposal for a third reactor in Maryland, EDF also faces the same problem that has long plagued all nuclear power projects: nuclear power is financially unviable. Maryland has faster, cheaper and more reliable ways to generate power without relying on foreign corporations that seek to hawk a dirty, expensive and outdated technology in the U.S.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.