France redirects its nuclear giants

22 February 2011

Areva will be required to spin off its uranium mining activities under the French government's plans for a strategic partnership between the company and EDF. The forthcoming Atmea1 reactor design and small reactors up to 300 MWe will also be targets for future development. 

The Nuclear Policy Council, headed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, has announced that EDF and Areva will finalise a technical and commercial agreement before the middle of this year relating to the establishment of a strategic partnership between France's two major nuclear companies. The agreement will focus on further optimisation of the EPR design, currently under construction in Finland, France and China, improved operation and maintenance of France's existing nuclear reactors, and work on the nuclear fuel cycle, both to develop new products and to enhance industrial cooperation on radioactive waste storage.

The Nuclear Policy Council's statement said Areva must spin off its uranium mining interests into a subsidiary "as a prerequisite" for putting in place strategic and financial support for its future development. It has also called for Areva to enter into a long-term uranium supply agreement with EDF. With a portfolio of interests in operating mines in Canada, Niger and Kazakhstan, and new mines under development in Namibia and Niger, uranium mining was responsible for 10% of Areva's consolidated revenue in 2009.

The statement also calls on Areva, EDF, GDF-Suez and "other stakeholders" to strengthen their collaboration on the Atmea1 power reactor. The Atmea1 is a medium-sized (1100 MWe) Generation III design being developed under a joint venture established in 2006 by Areva NP and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The reactor is intended for marketing primarily to countries embarking upon nuclear power programs, although the council says in its statement that construction of the first-of-a-kind Atmea1 in France will be considered.


Look east 

The Nuclear Policy Council also wants to ensure French involvement in the developing Chinese nuclear power market, and has instructed France's national energy research commission, the CEA, to conduct negotiations with the Chinese authorities with a view to establishing a comprehensive partnership between the two countries on all aspects of the civil nuclear power sector. In addition to providing products and services to the existing Chinese reactor fleet and future new build projects involving the EPR reactor design, this could include the joint development of a 1000 MWe Generation III reactor, the statement notes. "All players in the French nuclear industry will be involved in this partnership," the council states.

In addition, the French Ministry of Energy will lead a working group to look into the technical, legal and economic aspects of low power (100-300 MWe) reactor projects, which are becoming increasingly popular. 

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News