Jacques BesnainouOn Thursday, October 13, 2011, the World Affairs Council of Charlotte hosted Jacques Besnainou, CEO of AREVA Inc. at the Charlotte City Club. This CEO Series Luncheon was sponsored by J.P. Morgan, AREVA Inc., RCS Nuclear and System One Services. The topic of discussion centered around the the need for low-cost, abundant energy in the United States.

AREVA is a French engineering firm which employs about 5000 in North America and is the largest employer of engineers in Charlotte, North Carolina, with over 700 employees. Mr. Besnainou is the chief executive officer of AREVA’s North American operations, which are dedicated to nuclear power.

Charlotte, Besnainou pointed out, is moving from the financial center to the energy center of the United States, and he argued that now is the time to make series changes in investments to mirror this conversion. He maintained that investing in clean energy infrastructure is of upmost importance as our fuel supply is dwindling and our infrastructure crumbling.

“We are living off of the investments of our parents and grandparents,” Besnainou said. ” Investing is not always politically correct but it is the right thing to do.”

As he made compelling arguments for nuclear power, Mr. Besnainou claimed that AREVA is leading by example in the realm of nuclear energy by investing in the United States. He believes nuclear power to be the cheapest, safest and most valuable energy option, and this is why:

• The Evolutionary Power Reactor AREVA hopes to build in the United States will be the safest in the world and is said to be able to withstand the impact of a jet crash, not to mention a disaster such as Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.
• Nuclear energy works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It does not rely on unpredictable factors such as sun or wind to operate.
• The U.S.’ current nuclear fleet costs only about two to three cents per kilowatt-hour, making it the cheapest electricity in the world.
• The United States has absolutely no control over fuel, making it a dangerous commodity to depend on. Nuclear energy is reliable and abundant.

Mr. Besnainou strongly believes that rebuilding the nuclear industry will give the United States a strong competitive edge in the global economy. However, there will be obstacles along the way. Because our current power plants are aging, Besnainou insisted that we need to spend $2 trillion over the next 20 years to replace the supply chain.

In explaining why such a large amount of money is needed to rebuild the nuclear plants, Besnainou compared the U.S. GDP on infrastructure to that of China and France. In China, he explained, nine percent of the country’s GDP is spent on infrastructure; in France, four percent. Since 1980, the United States has only allotted two percent of its GDP to infrastructure, a possible explanation for the widespread deterioration we see today.

“The future,” Mr. Besnainou hopes, “is investing in clean energy infrastructure.”