Not all plain sailing for French friendships

31 July 2007

France is working hard with India towards a nuclear energy cooperation deal, hot on the heels of the agreement of a draft deal between the USA and India. France has also offered to help the United Arab Emirates to launch a nuclear power program.

Meanwhile, the signing of contracts for French nuclear company Areva to supply reactors to China has been postponed, and France's recent nuclear agreement with Libya is coming under fire from German politicians.

Senior advisers to the French and Indian presidents met in New Delhi for a consultation session on the Indo-French strategic partnership. According to a statement from France's Indian Embassy, the parties "stressed their common endeavour to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," and "agreed to conclude expeditiously a bilateral cooperation agreement thereof." David Levitte, diplomatic adviser to the French president, invited India's President Manmohan Singh to visit France in 2008, and Singh invited President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to visit India "at an early date."

India has been effectively isolated from international nuclear trade for over 30 years, as it is not a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), despite having non-proliferation credentials which are recognised as excellent. The US-India nuclear cooperation deal, which is currently before the Indian and US governments for approval, is paving the way for the re-opening of trade, and according to the US Chamber of Commerce could be worth up to $100 billion in opportunities for the US energy industry, with more for related businesses such as finance.

Talks in Paris between Sarkozy and President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) concluded with the two countries saying they will put a 1980 agreement into effect to help the UAE launch its own nuclear power program. The UAE is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which has announced interest in developing a shared nuclear program for the region.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for France's international nuclear friendships. The anticipated signing of an agreement between China and France for the construction of two nuclear reactors by Areva has been postponed for "technical and calendar reasons," according to reports. The Eur6 billion ($8.2 billion) deal for the construction of two Evolutionary Power Reactors (EPRs) was expected to be signed by the end of July. China recently signed contracts with Westinghouse for the construction of four AP1000 reactors, with construction scheduled to begin in 2009. China has plans to increase its nuclear capacity fivefold to 40 GWe by 2020 and to 120-160 GWe by 2030.

Separately, France's recently signed accord with Libya to build a nuclear powered desalination plant has been attacked by German politicians, in the light of Libya's past involvement with Arab nationalism and terrorist attacks. Libya is a signatory of the NPT and has publicly renounced its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Germany's Siemens group owns 34% of Areva's nuclear power division, and German Green Party spokesperson Margareta Wolf advised the company not to "play with fire," although a Siemens spokesman confirmed to the press that the company sees "no reason" to sell its stake in Areva at present.

Further information

Embassy of France in India

WNA: Nuclear power in China information paper

WNN: Finalized US-India cooperation agreement kept under wraps
WNN: Westinghouse signs Chinese contracts, buys into PBMR
WNN: Libya and France sign nuclear desalination agreement

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