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France lobbies for civil reactor deal with China

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Oct 25 (Reuters) France, seeking to put pressure on a U.S. rival in efforts to sell new-generation nuclear power plants to China, said today it was only interested in a deal that also involved raw uranium supplies and reprocessing.

French President Jacques Chirac told a French business delegation at the start of a four-day state visit to China that France, which is the world's leading nuclear reactor builder, would fight U S firm Westinghouse for the 8 billion dollars order.

The U S company, which was recently acquired by Japan's Toshiba, is competing head to head with France's state-controlled Areva, which covers the spectrum of nuclear reactors, uranium and fuel reprocessing and recycling.

After two years of talks since a tender for third-generation plants was launched in 2004, the two sides have been asked to extend their current offers until the end of December.

''It's a difficult dossier,'' Chirac said. ''We have to fight for this business. We will make a global offer (covering the whole nuclear cycle) or none at all.'' French officials believe a package involving the whole supply chain from raw fuel to recycling and reprocessing would give Areva the edge, but say they are flexible about the form.

China's intentions remain unclear, and its energy planners do not have a common stand on how to proceed, they caution.

Areva Chief Executive Anne Lauvergeon said there was a ''very significant'' political dimension to the nuclear talks.

Lauvergeon said Areva believed its offer was cheaper but gave no details.

Both she and Chirac indicated that France would play up its nuclear power experience, with 80 per cent of its power needs derived from that source, compared with what Chirac described as unproven ''paper'' technology from the United States -- a country that has long banned the building of new nuclear power plants.

''The technical risk of the American project is considerable,'' Chirac said, adding on the other hand that the state of China's trade balance did not favour the Europeans.

Industry officials have said in the past that both Westinghouse's AP 1000 and Areva's EPR technology are seen as competitive. Both have at various stages been reported close to signing a deal after a third Russian bidder dropped out.


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