In January 2007 Areva was fined €53 million by the European Commission for rigging EU electricity markets through a cartel involving 11 companies, among which ABB, Alstom, Fuji, Hitachi Japan, AE Power Systems, Mitsubishi Electric Corp, Schneider, Siemens, Toshiba and VA Tech. According to the Commission, “between 1988 and 2004, the companies rigged bids for procurement contracts, fixed prices, allocated projects to each other, shared markets and exchanged commercially important and confidential information.” Siemens was given a fine of €396 million, more than half of the total, for its alleged leadership role in the cartel.
Despite EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes optimism, he declared after the judgement: “The commission has put an end to a cartel which has cheated public utility companies and consumers for more than 16 years”. The group now wants to create another electricity cartel operation in conjunction with South Africa’s much-maligned Eskom.
According to the Multinational Monitor, the company formerly known as Frametone has a troubled history. On February 18, 1982, French farmers forced police and nuclear workers to flee the test drilling site of a proposed nuclear plant in Carnet in western France. They used a novel antinuclear weapon: bees.
The action followed fierce earlier clashes between police and residents, including a February 1 blockade by 2,000 protestors that fought police with stones and Molotov cocktails. The Carnet protest highlighted a growing confrontation between French public opposition to the nuclear power plants mushrooming across the French countryside and to the business and government push for further expansion of France’s nuclear capability.
Less visible has been the growing public concern with the proliferation risks posed by France’s export of nuclear reactors, technology, and enriched uranium to countries refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Central to both controversies is the French company which won contracts to build 44 of France’s 54 operating or planned nuclear power plants and has marketed all France’s nuclear reactor exports: Framatome.
Areva/Framatome has been the linchpin of France’s strategy to achieve nuclear selfreliance and end U.S. domination of world nuclear export markets. The largest single manufacturer of nuclear reactors in the world, Framatome has helped France become the third biggest producer of electricity generated by nuclear power after the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and the first if measured by the percentage of national electricity needs satisfied by nuclear power. It has generated profits and 150,000 jobs for the French economy – as well as strong criticism for its failure to require adequate safeguards against Third World countries’ use of its nuclear exports to develop nuclear weapons.
France Goes Nuclear
Framatome’s growth is rooted in the history of France’s Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA), a government agency set up by DeGaulle in 1945 in order to direct French nuclear research and develop an independent French nuclear weapons capability.
In the 1960’s, CEA priorities shifted to developing a French nuclear power industry. Framatome’s licensing relationship with the U.S.’s Westinghouse Corporation played a central role in France’s strategy of gaining access to U.S. reactor technology and integrating it with the centerpiece of France’s self-reliant nuclear program, the fast breeder reactor.
Seven companies of the Belgian -controlled Empain Schneider Group – a heavy industry and armaments group – founded the Societe Franco-American de Construction Eeonomique, or Framatome, in 1958 primarily to win a license from Westinghouse to use its reactor design. Framatome’s first reactor prototype – a joint Belgian-French venture – gave the company the experience which later helped it become France’s sole supplier of light water reactor systems.