Jul 24, 2018

Ep 44: Yves Desbazeille - Director General, Foratom

Director General
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Show notes

Q1: What got you initially interested in nuclear energy?

A1: Yves Desbazeille was initially interested in being an electrical engineer and gained competence in many different systems, especially power-related. Desbazeille grew up in France and moved to the U.S. after spending ten years in the French industry. Political and media influence is rare in France, but there is a lot of influence from the German policy on nuclear. Desbazeille started his career working at EDF, working up from engineer to project manager and also got involved with the U.S. EPR, which was a U.S. version of the European pressurized reactor. The project died out due to financial challenges, and the cost of nuclear energy continues to be a hurdle in competing with other energy sources, even when renewables cannot perform consistently.

Q2: Why aren’t renewable energies, such as wind, penalized for erratic performance by utility companies?

A2: Regulations prevent utility companies from penalizing renewable energies for erratic performance, which Yves Desbazeille sees as a negative impact to nuclear energy and actually encourages renewable energy sources to perform inconsistently. This pattern of renewables is consistent in many different countries. Desbazeille spent time in Brussels and Laos during his time as a nuclear project manager. EDF is currently involved in an EPC contract at Hinkley Point C, a nuclear reactor under construction in the U.K. A contract for difference allows investors security and foresight into the future of the energy generation plant as the price of power fluctuates. Higher interest rates are utilized to account for the high level of risk involved in the projects. Desbazeille also sees volatility in the carbon credit program, which impacts the competitiveness of investors who are considering many different power investment options.

Q3: What challenges did you experience as a project manager at the Hinkley Point C reactor in the U.K.?

A3: Yves Desbazeille was project manager with EDF at the Hinkley Point C reactor in the U.K. and experiences a challenge of convincing the commission there was a “0:19 case load?”, which some member states understood, but others did not and considered themselves crusaders opposing nuclear power. In France, there are still some cross-party challenges about whether to keep nuclear power or not, but in Germany, there is a cross-party agreement, at this time, to not pursue nuclear power. EDF also represents the industry in the EU, based in Brussels, which is home to many NGO’s.

Q4: How are nuclear power decisions made in Brussels for the EU?

A4: Yves Desbazeille is involved in representing the nuclear power industry with Foratom for the European Union in Brussels. Decisions in the European Union are made within three legs: the Commission, which proposes policy, the European parliament, which approves or amends proposals, and the Council, which determines whether to execute or revise the proposal. There are two types of governmental text coming from the European Union: directives, which are supposed to be translated into national legislation, and regulations, which are directly applicable in each country. Each member state has their own responsibility when it comes to deciding its energy mix, but the Commission has full responsibility when it comes to climate and renewable policies.

Q5: As a representative of the nuclear trade, what leg of the European Union do you deal with most directly?

A5: As a representative of the nuclear trade, Yves Desbazeille deals most direction with the European Commission. The Euratom Treaty, signed in 1957, was established at the same time as the Treaty creating the European Economic Community, with a focus on developing peaceful use of nuclear power for Europe. Challenges include environmental waste and the economy of the power market. France is responsible for about half of the low-carbon power generation in the European Union, but there are some very strong anti-nuclear voices in the EU. Desbazeille sees praise for Germany’s pursuit of renewable energy, despite the positive results from France’s low-carbon emissions through the use of nuclear power. The European Union has loop flows of power, which allows member states to rely on power generation elsewhere to support demand during erratic renewable performance.

Q6: How did you become a representative of the nuclear trade for the European Union?

Q6: There are two reasons Yves Desbazeille became a representative of the nuclear trade for the European Union: his history in industry, and the 5 years previously spent in Brussels, involved in other non-nuclear energy policy work. All countries with nuclear power are involved in the representation for the nuclear trade, with the exception of Germany, which does not have any nuclear power. The representation meets with its representative member states to understand perceptions, expectations, and needs regarding nuclear power, and address any challenges or difficulties that arise. There are currently 126 reactors in the EU, and the group is raising political awareness to maintain these operational facilities. There are environmental and economic benefits to be lost if nuclear energy is diminished in the EU. Nuclear power is a reliable base load, and if the fleet is diminished, many competencies in the technology would be lost, including operators, manufacturers, and maintenance crews.

Q7: Is there a political party in the EU that is vocal about being pro-nuclear?

A7: The U.K. is showing interest in nuclear power investment, which, even though the U.K is leaving the EU, Yves Desbazeille sees as progress because it shows that state’s perspectives can be changed. In order to change more minds, nuclear supporters need to communicate more about the timeline of de-carbonization benefits and the capability of industry innovation. Desbazeille sees small modular reactors (SMR’s) possibly helping member states see potential for the technology. Improvements and advancements in safety features will also impact the future perception of nuclear energy.

Q8: How come the incident at Fukushima wasn’t promoted in the EU as a success for nuclear energy?

A8: One of Yves Desbazeille’s struggles within the EU is that nuclear power is not a rational debate within the member states, but is more of an emotional debate. Confidence takes longer to establish than it does to lose it, and fear causes lost confidence in nuclear technology. Coal production and power generation causes many deaths a year, but the public does not have the same perception about this industry as it does of nuclear energy.

Q9: What does the future of the world look like for nuclear power?

A9: Yves Desbazeille’s main vision for the future is to prevent climate change from happening, Nuclear technology needs to be understood by decision makers and there must be collaboration between different power generation industries. Nuclear should be considered as one of the solutions. Small modular reactors (SMR’s) may be influential in the future because they are a flexible generation solution and could be manufactured more efficiently.

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