[Viewpoint] Stepping up in a new nuclear era

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[Viewpoint] Stepping up in a new nuclear era

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has turned into an avid campaigner for nuclear energy. In a presidential address before an international forum in Paris last week, he broke the mold.

As a key speaker at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development conference on nuclear energy, Sarkozy delivered an eloquent, creative and articulate speech on the need for aggressive development of nuclear technologies to help poor countries develop and to create a cleaner global environment.

He proposed seven steps to spread safe and clean nuclear power reactor technologies around the world. He presented original ideas, such as suggesting that lenders like the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development play a more active role in funding nuclear reactor construction in developing countries.

During the 20-minute address, he quoted recent studies, statistics and new technology terms - and he delivered the address as if he knew his subject inside and out. Not once did he look down to the script; in fact, the audience hardly noticed there was a script on the podium. Sarkozy was a scrupulously well-prepared salesman.

Ministers and vice-ministerial delegates from 61 countries attended the conference. Countries that either reported nuclear reactor activity or the intention for future activity to the International Atomic Energy Agency sent representatives.

The French government, which hosted the forum, sent out invitations in mid-January, and its dexterity in gathering so many in one place in such a short time was a surprise to many.

On the sidelines, the government took the delegates to a construction site in Flamanville, where a new European Pressurized Reactor, a third-generation reactor with technology developed by French companies, is being built.

The event was a showcase of French power encompassed in strong leadership, veteran diplomacy and top-notch nuclear technology. Yang Myung-seung, president of the Korea Atomic Research Institute, said the forum clearly proclaimed France’s status as a world leader in nuclear energy technology.

“This is no time to gloat over our victory against France over the reactor contract from the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Another Korean official added, “Just because we beat football powerhouses Italy and Portugal in World Cup games in 2002, it doesn’t mean our national team can win next time. The same goes for the reactor competition. We must not underestimate France’s ability.”

Sarkozy suggested that the IAEA develop guidelines and a rating system for reactor designs to evaluate the safety of each country’s reactors. His suggestion demonstrates his confidence in France’s reactor technology and his aggressiveness in making inroads in markets around the globe. He assured the delegates that his country’s companies are willing to transfer the technology after they finish construction.

The Korean delegates returned home with heavy hearts. Korea’s prospects of making nuclear technology one of its major growth engines for the future look bumpy. The delegates agreed that the only solution is to build up capabilities to meet and beat the French challenge.

Nuclear power development has been pursued diligently and passionately by one president after another. Syngman Rhee built the first research institute in 1958, Park Chung Hee licensed construction of the first reactor in 1972, and Chun Doo Hwan pursued localization of reactor technology in 1984. Such radical support from Korea’s leadership has led to the formidable reactor technology we demonstrate to the world today.

But to prepare for a bottleneck and heavy competition amid a nuclear boom, we must hone our technological skills. The times call for another strong leader.

*The writer is the Paris correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Sang-eon
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