Total to enter nuclear industry

05 February 2007

The incoming CEO of French oil company, Total, has said that as an energy company, it will certainly have to be part of the nuclear industry: "If it is not hydrocarbons, if it is not renewables, if it is not nuclear, what is it?"

Christophe de Margerie's, comments were reported by the Financial Times, which described de Margerie as "a hydrocarbon man through and through." Nevertheless, de Margerie said that as access to hydrocarbons becomes more difficult Total would have to move into other parts of the energy sector. "Being in the energy business, which we consider not only as our business but also as a responsibility vis a vis the consumer, we will certainly one day have to return be part of this [nuclear] adventure."

Total has already made very small steps to involvement in nuclear. It owns 1% of Areva, the largest nuclear business in the world, and current Total CEO, Thierry Desmarest, sits on its board. He will remain as chair of Total's board when de Margerie takes over as CEO.

Desmarest said in 2005, "Perhaps one day we will have to consider using nuclear for generating steam and power for production." He was referring to the problem of extracting useful oil from gritty oil sands. Usually, producers use large quantities of natural gas to soften the tarry deposits for extraction, but with global prices for gas increasing dramatically, alternatives are required.

Apart from burning the extracted tar itself, another option is nuclear power, which could provide a stream of high-temperature steam, and electricity for use at the extraction plant. Comments made by de Margerie in 2005 indicated that Total was considering nuclear only in that capacity, but observers now content that financial participation in new nuclear electricity projects could present a good opportunity for investment as expansion in hydrocarbons becomes more difficult.

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