Areva Moves Toward Building Nuclear Plants in California

Last Updated Jan 6, 2010 7:08 AM EST

Areva, a French nuclear engineering firm, is going ahead with a partnership with the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group to build new reactors in California's Central Valley. At first glance that doesn't sound so odd, but California presents a somewhat intimidating prospect for nuclear power advocates.

Famed for its earthy liberals, many of whom show outright hostility toward nuclear power, California cities like Berkeley even refuse to buy services from firms associated with nuclear. It gets worse: the state actually has a law on the books forbidding nuclear unless it comes with an attached plan for waste disposal -- an unlikely prospect in the current U.S. nuclear industry.

Still, Areva, which signed a letter of intent with FNEG that it just affirmed with a press release today, thinks it can overcome the difficulties. The LA Times previously reported that the deal will probably be finalized in March.

The waste law has been on the books for several decades, and the partners think it has become outdated, which is sometimes a valid argument in seeking to overturn laws. And as I've pointed out here, public opinion is becoming more favorable to nuclear.

There's also one more tactic Areva will be able to try: playing states off against one another. Next door in Arizona, governor Jan Brewer has announced that she'll "leave the lights on" for the California nuclear industry, if its home state snubs it.

Threatening to go to another state worked to get tax bills lowered for Tesla Motors before it finally settled on a Los Angeles suburb to build its electric car manufacturing plants. Whatever risks environmentalists may fear from nuclear plants, any modern movement against them may be forced to bow to the will of the state's many unemployed workers.