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Fukushima confirms that when it comes to safety, you can't negotiate. The nuclear industry's responsibility is to be transparent. Given the catastrophe, this requirement will grow even more.
I've always advocated the most rigorous standards and secure technology. When I became CEO of Cogema in 1999, people told me it was professional suicide to join the nuclear industry. The French mainstream believed nuclear had no future. Oil prices were low, but we still needed domestic sources of energy. I pushed for Cogema to merge with Frama-tome. My friends told me to forget about trying to bring these companies together and to worry about my own career. But I felt we could be stronger as one company. In 2001 we became Areva.
Years later, when Nicolas Sarkozy asked me to be Finance Minister, I was flattered but also very embarrassed. Mine can be a political job; we are mostly state-owned and deal with multiple levels of government. But you don't want to refuse the President. Sarkozy is a lawyer by training, and he's very charming. The discussions lasted three days, and it didn't help that the public knew he wanted me in the job. Even so, I didn't want to negotiate.
It wasn't easy saying no. Did I worry about the impact on the company? Of course. Still, I felt my value was here. I'm very attached to Areva. My term is up in June, and I would like to stay on. That's not my decision, but right now my mind is on this business every second.
I think nuclear power will continue to play an important role by reducing the dependence on imported energy, lowering carbon emissions, and ensuring security of supply. In the past, critics have said that Areva's new reactors are too expensive. But we build them to withstand the crash of a wide-body aircraft or any type of serious accident, including a core meltdown. There is a cost. We lost a major bid last year to a cheaper competitor. But I believe that low-cost reactors are not and should not be the future.