France says review of China nuclear relations "normal"

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 21, 2013 1:33 PM
France says review of China nuclear relations "normal"

By Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters) - France's Trade Minister Nicole Bricq said on Monday a decision by her country's new government to review the country's nuclear cooperation with China was a regular process and was "normal".

At the end of December, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said France was investigating a nuclear partnership deal between EDF and Chinese nuclear utility China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation Holding (CGNPC).

That investigation is looking into why the deal initially excluded French nuclear reactor maker Areva and at the extent to which French strategic interests could be at risk.

Bricq, who was in China paying the second visit to the country by a French minister this month, said it was not surprising for a team that has been out of power for 10 years to undergo a "regular process to set strategy."

President Francois Hollande's socialist party won the 2012 presidential election after a decade of conservative rule.

On Tuesday, Bricq will visit two next-generation EPR reactors being built by French utility EDF and by CGNPC in Taishan, Guangdong province.

She said construction is proceeding at a good pace and that if all continues smoothly, the reactors could be operational in 2014.

"This will provide the world with a window on this technology," Bricq said.

The EPR reactors, designed by Areva, are the latest in commercial reactor design and none is in operation so far.

Areva is building one in Finland and EDF one in France but both are years behind schedule and billions over budget. France's nuclear export drive has been hurt by the lack of a working model.

"It is best to have a working reactor as we pursue other potential contracts," Bricq said.

Bricq played down concerns about Chinese irritation over the French investigation, as Moscovici did during his visit to Beijing two weeks ago.

"The important thing is to continue the Sino-French cooperation," Bricq told reporters in Beijing.

Bricq said her Chinese counterpart, Commerce Minister Chen Deming, had not expressed any undue concern about the review.

Asked about an EDF-CGNPC project to build a new type of 1000 megawatt reactor for the Chinese market, smaller than Areva's 1600 megawatt EPR, Bricq said that it was important to first complete the two Taishan plants.

"We can't go too fast...The first priority is to finish this project," she said.

Bricq met Chen to discuss agricultural products standards and industrial issues also including aviation cooperation.

She is also preparing for Hollande to visit China this spring, possibly in April.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Anthony Barker)