Ep 58: Valerie Faudon - Executive Director, French Nuclear Society
1) Electricity and the Telecom Industry
Bret Kugelmass: I saw that you have not one, not two, but three Master’s Degrees. What inspired you? What eventually allowed you to break free [of school]?
Valerie Faudon: Valerie Faudon really like studying and wanted to study everything. She started studying a lot of math and physics before moving on to political science, history, and lots of other subjects that are extremely useful in her job today. Faudon eventually ended up working at [Hewlett-Packard] HP, in California. She worked there for 3 years in California and a total of 13 years. Her background is in information technology and eventually went to the telecom industry. Valerie Faudon entered the industry for two reasons. The first reason was a very large French company with technology leadership, so it was very thrilling because she could work on international projects with really great technology which was very attractive to Faudon. And the second reason Faudon pursued nuclear is that she became really sensitized to all the climate issues which became very important to her. What was really interesting is that the adoption rate of mobile phones was much quicker than previously forecasted. The whole telecom industry was wrong in all of their forecasts about the adoption of mobile technology. Fascinatingly, the major limit to the adoption of the technology was not economics, even the very poor were ready to invest in the technology. The limit proved to be access to electricity. There were whole areas with no electricity to power the base station.
2) Electricity as a Public Service
Bret Kugelmass: What did you see in climate during your time traveling which might forecast down the road?
Valerie Faudon: During her travels, Valerie Faudon was not able to link specific events to climate change, but it became very clear to her that it was a big thing coming. At the time she worked in developing countries, she realized that people wanted to catch up and use mobile technology to access a wide range of services. Faudon launched a program for access to internet in emerging markets, but countries did not want special programs. Countries wanted to be a part of the big picture global connection program. Valerie Faudon served as the U.S. VP of Marketing for Areva, a company involved in many aspects of the nuclear industry, including building new plants and servicing existing plants. Faudon appreciated the multiple disciplines represented at the company and sees people in the nuclear industry have a sense of bringing good to the world. EDF, the main electricity provider in France, has been state-owned for a very long time and has a strong tradition of treating electricity as a public service, as people in the city pay the same for electricity as those in more rural areas.
3) Leading French and European Nuclear Societies
Bret Kugelmass: What was the relationship like between the French Nuclear Society and other members of the European Nuclear Society?
Valerie Faudon: Valerie Faudon is the Vice President for the European Nuclear Society. The group collaborates a lot between nuclear societies. There are about 14 nuclear societies in the world, which host a lot of conferences and discussions regarding technology. One recent discussion at a conference focused on the use of digital technology within the global nuclear industry. The mission is to make advances in technology geared toward both highly skilled and knowledgeable people, but also to the general public. France has a reputation for being advocates for the industry whose expertise the public trusts. This means representatives for the country often have to adapt how they communicate, by simplifying technical information, but remaining accurate. The society does a lot of work in advocacy, specifically working with the media when there are questions. Recently, the European Nuclear Society ran a massive online course focusing on nuclear. It used to be that all the questions on the environment were focused on safety and waste. However, Faudon believes the industry has done fantastic work on safety and waste. Instead of specifically focusing on the environment, the subjects that keep the public up at night have changed a lot. Now there are questions about climate, air pollution, biodiversity, and the use of worldwide resources. There is a lot of demand about new data, typically, for the French, about the cost of existing nuclear, the cost of decommissioning, and especially the cost of new nuclear. The number one demand from citizens is to have affordable electricity.
4) Challenges in the European Energy Market
Bret Kugelmass: Does France have the most support for nuclear from within the country?
Valerie Faudon: Public opinion about nuclear power varies a lot from one country to another. Other countries do have a strong support for nuclear, such as the U.K., Finland, and Czech Republic. The problem is not necessarily public opinion about nuclear, but there is a problem with the design of the electricity market design in Europe and it is not attracting investment. It is extremely difficult to obtain investors if they are hoping to invest 10 million euros and do not have visibility on what kind of returns you might have on the investment. This is largely because you never know what the price of electricity will be through the full life of the plant. Faudon believes the issue is more about the electricity market and the business cases. One instrument to help with the unique challenges of large upfront costs is a carbon price. The French government is very supportive of a carbon floor price, so they are trying to negotiate with Germany and with other neighbors to make this a more common tool. The second instrument, which is similar to what that in the UK, is an agreement on the price of electricity that you will sell. This would provide a more stable and predictable investment.
5) A Bright Future for Nuclear
Bret Kugelmass: What do you see changing in the next five or ten years that would really help nuclear flourish?
Valerie Faudon: Valerie Faudon expects a report from the IPCC that says the current climate strategy is failing. Nuclear is not a part of the current climate solution, but this may help people realize that nuclear needs to be considered and all solutions need to be part of the solution. Faudon fears that people are bringing other agendas to the climate discussion, perhaps because they are anti-science, anti-growth, or anti-capitalism. These agendas prevents progress on the climate agenda because arguments end up being about things not related to the climate. The progress of digital technology in the nuclear industry has a lot of potential in the short term to make a large difference. It is also important to consider the long term and how nuclear power will fit in with society and the dreams of the people. Nuclear can play a role in how we each see the future and how countries can achieve both individual and collective goals. Faudon wants people to dream about all the different kinds of great achievements we can work towards to build a greater future.