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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

UPDATE 1-EDF to head French nuclear deal in Abu Dhabi


* EDF could take command of French nuclear bid-Proglio

* Bid to be submitted on Dec. 10-Proglio

* French consortium has already lowered price-sources

* Abu Dhabi nuclear plant project estimated at up to $40 bln

By Gilles Guillaume and Nina Sovich

PARIS, Dec 9 (Reuters) - EDF (EDF.PA) is set to take the lead in a fresh bid by a French consortium to sell at least two nuclear reactors to Abu Dhabi, the new head of the French nuclear power giant said on Wednesday.

"What is envisaged today, although nothing is set yet, is a management structure for the project, in which EDF would head up the project in association with GDF Suez," Henri Proglio told reporters on the sidelines of a conference.

Power and gas group GDF Suez (GSZ.PA), oil major Total (TOTF.PA) and Areva (CEPFi.PA), the world's biggest nuclear reactor maker, bid for the Abu Dhabi contract nearly two years ago, and were initially seen as the race's frontrunners.

But the French consortium -- which EDF joined earlier this year after a request by the United Arab Emirates to French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- have recently appeared to be losing ground to a rival bid by Korea Electric Power Corp (015760.KS).

A consortium comprising General Electric (GE.N) and Japan's Hitachi (6501.T) is also bidding.

In an effort to compete with the cheaper South Korean offer, the French consortium reduced its price in November, two sources with direct knowledge of the situation have told Reuters, adding they were now waiting for Abu Dhabi's decision.

But Proglio, chief executive of the world's largest single operator of nuclear power plants, told reporters on Wednesday that a bid would be submitted on Dec. 10.

Last month, Proglio blasted the French consortium for what he called its lack of coherence, so EDF taking a commanding role and the price cut could be seen as a last-minute move to land the deal.

"EDF has been strongly encouraged, at the highest political levels, to take the lead of the pack," said a source close to the bid, who asked not to be named.

French newspaper Les Echos reported on Wednesday, citing no sources, that EDF could take a 45 percent stake in the project, with GDF Suez holding an identical stake, and Total taking the remaining 10 percent.

"EDF was called to the rescue," Les Echos said, adding that the board of EDF had met on this issue on Tuesday and that GDF Suez's board would also meet later on Wednesday.

The consortium would not be expected to invest as part of this new plan, being paid by Abu Dhabi for their services instead, Les Echos said.

A spokeswoman for EDF declined to comment. (Writing by Marie Maitre; Editing by David Cowell)

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