It was not easy visiting Areva, the French company that is the world's biggest manufacturer of nuclear energy. I was received recently for a special meeting by Bertrand Barre, scientific adviser at Areva, along with two journalist colleagues from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The meeting was organised by the French Agency for International Investments. The security checks were strict, and involved fingerprinting and electronic doors. Barre received us cordially, and prepared for us the relevant documents of the French nuclear future energy programme.
Areva has been in talks with sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Kuwait and Japan in the hope of securing their investment by the end of the year. (Kuwait Investment Authority, the country's sovereign wealth fund, recently invested €600 million [Dh3.02 billion] in Areva, which is a 4.8 per cent share in the context of the total capital. The financial requirement for the investment group comes to €12 billion).
The reality is that one country alone cannot invest in something as huge as manufacturing nuclear reactors over the long term. Hence, France hopes that Gulf countries participate in this huge project. Certainly, Kuwaiti's investment gave a great boost to the company, Barre said.
"Through this we can develop energy supplies and provision of services to the world. Therefore, Kuwait will get great benefits from this investment over the long term. The Kuwaiti investment will enable us to implement our future projects because the world needs more than twice the energy than it needed in the past." Barre confirmed that oil has become too valuable to be used just as fuel.
Does this mean that Gulf countries, like others, must consider nuclear energy?
Barre said, "It is natural that the Gulf countries consider this option because nuclear energy is the most economic and clean [form of energy]. We are trying to involve the Gulf countries."
Long term benefits
And as for cost of nuclear energy, Barre noted, "The investment in nuclear energy costs a lot in the beginning, but it is cheaper [in the long run]. Nuclear power is competitive in pricing."
He said that the market was expanding in all countries, and there are now many more competitors started. Barre said his company was cooperating with India, China, South Africa and Brazil and offering its services to both Korea and the US.
Areva had some cooperation with Iran before the Islamic revolution in 1979. But it now has some suspicions about the Iranian nuclear programme, and has no cooperation with the country any more. But on Israel, the company's line is different.
"Israel didn't sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and its activity is concentrated on the production of weapons. Unlike Iran, which is a signatory to the treaty, and accordingly is obliged not to produce nuclear energy for non-peaceful purposes." He concluded: "There are prospects for cooperation with the Arab countries like Morocco, Egypt and Jordan as well as the Gulf countries."
The Gulf countries need fuel supply although they have huge reserves of oil, because of the fuel cycle costs, and the fact that the management of spent fuel and waste are major concerns. Areva has a series of solutions spanning the entire fuel cycle. This is an increasingly important issue, given the rising levels of pollution in the Gulf region.
With its high performance technologies, Areva is working with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, with UAE and Oman to follow later during Phase 2 and Phase 3 of its project. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states will in the near future be the favourite partners of Areva.
It is expected that the implementation of the second phase of the capital increase will occur within three to six months, with the listing of Areva shares on the bourse. The French government owns more than 90 per cent of the company, which is traded on the Paris stock exchange.
The nuclear energy strategy of the GCC for the future is very important to meet the world's energy needs. Investment in nuclear energy will provide great stability and energy efficiency, and offer energy at an economical price, to the growing population in the region.
Shakir Noori is senior editor and writer based in Dubai and Paris.