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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

French nuclear deals need bespoke flavour

[The article does not really mention this, but another factor for the Koreans is that they have more recent construction experience.]


* France should adapt reactor offer to clients-analysts

* EPR for Europe, U.S. and China; cheaper reactors elsewhere

By Marie Maitre and Nina Sovich

PARIS, Jan 6 (Reuters) - France could miss out on more multi-billion dollar deals to build new nuclear power plants unless it changes its current nuclear export strategy and adapts its technological offer to local needs, analysts said.

French nuclear firms should stop pushing expensive state-of-the-art reactors to developing countries and instead market the EPR -- Areva's flagship nuclear reactor -- to rich countries where top-notch safety systems are politically key, they added.

Countries such as India or the Gulf states should be offered older, cheaper technology, analysts said, adding Areva should also work on quickly finalising a smaller type of reactor with new technology to broaden its range of products.

A consortium led by EDF and GDF Suez, and including Total and Areva, were dealt a blow in December when the United Arab Emirates picked a South Korean group to build four reactors.

Two sources close to the deal told Reuters that Abu Dhabi chose a South Korean consortium, led by Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), because the 1,650 megawatt (MW) EPR was too expensive.

While the Korean consortium offered to build four 1,400 MW reactors for $20 billion, the French offered to build its bigger and more modern reactors for $36 billion.

The emergence of a powerful new player has turned up the pressure on French groups, which still hope to secure orders for a third of all new reactors to be built worldwide by 2030.

Other rivals bidding to stop them include Toshiba unit Westinghouse Electric, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and General Electric Co..

The loss of the high-profile UAE deal raises the question of whether the French consortium was flexible enough to present a range of options to Abu Dhabi or simply presumed the oil-based nation had deep pockets and would pay for the EPR.

"This was not simply a question of cost," French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde told the Les Echos paper on Tuesday.

"The French offer was probably not the best calibrated."


Analysts said France had to change its nuclear bidding strategy, with some asking why the French consortium did not offer Abu Dhabi existing technology, such as one of the second-generation nuclear power plants operating in France.

"They will have to wonder if they need to offer Rolls-Royces all the time," said Jefferies analyst Alex Barnett.

France offered the EPR -- a third-generation reactor developed after nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, and which offers enhanced safety systems by better isolating the core reactor in case of a meltdown.

"The obvious response to the Koreans would have been to offer a second-generation reactor. Some of the latest ones are relatively young. They're also proven," said UBS analyst Per Lekander.

Sources with direct knowledge of the situation, however, said Areva was unlikely to change its strategy.

"(They are) never going to sell second-generations again. (They are) now aiming for higher safety standards, and as they stand, second-generations cannot be sold anymore in the U.S. or Europe, which are (its) key markets," one of the sources said.

Areva declined comment on the loss of the Abu Dhabi deal, but pointed to a smaller 1,100 MW reactor -- Atmea -- that it is developing and which is set to be ready by 2011, and another 1,250 MW model -- Kerena -- whose design is not yet defined.

Both reactors are also third-generation models, but until they are ready, France will pin its hopes on sales of the EPR.

This export drive, however, could be hampered by recent bad publicity.

The first EPR, currently under construction in Finland, has been beset by cost overruns and delays that caused Areva to take a charge of 2.3 billion euros ($3.29 billion) for the project last year.

A second unit being built in France is reportedly behind schedule, sources said, although EDF and Areva deny this. More importantly, three nuclear regulatory bodies chastised both Areva and EDF for a design fault in November.


Another source insisted cost issues were behind the UAE loss. Asked whether the French nuclear consortium should have modified its offer when it appeared that the EPR was losing ground to the Koreans', the source said: "No, Abu Dhabi asked for an EPR."

"They wanted it but at the price of (KEPCO's winning design) APR1400, and this was simply not possible. They had to make a choice between a product that was too expensive and a product they liked less but at a price they were willing to pay."

"They wanted a Mercedes but at the price of a Kia," he added, referring to the German luxury car maker and the South Korean manufacturer of smaller and less expensive autos.

These smaller and less glamorous reactors, however, have worked for decades in South Korea with a good safety record.

For a Wrapup on the UAE nuclear deal click on For an Analysis on French nuclear export hitches see For more on the EPR ($1=.6985 Euro) (Additional reporting by Muriel Boselli, editing by Marcel Michelson and Simon Jessop)

2010-01-06 14:36:44

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