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INTERVIEW-French nuclear firms to get image boost from UK deal

Michel Rose
Tuesday, 29 Oct 2013 | 12:40 PM ET

* Says Hinkley Point deal to improve global nuclear image

* Says hopes for Chinese decisions in 2014 on nuclear deals

* Says British deal shows importance of united French front

PARIS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Britain's deal with French utility EDF to build a $26 billion nuclear plant, the first in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster, will help convince other countries to consider atomic power, France's trade minister said.

For the Hinkley Point C project in southwest England, EDF will build two European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) manufactured by France's state-owned Areva. Two Chinese partners will join the consortium.

"It helps to have this project, because from now on it gives a positive message not only to Europeans but also other countries around the world who want to get equipped," Trade Minister Nicole Bricq told a Reuters Newsmaker breakfast on Tuesday.

Poland and Saudi Arabia are among countries interested in building nuclear plants, she said, adding that competition from Korean and Japanese-American companies for these deals was fierce.

For French companies, however, the most immediate prospective customer is China, which is expected to build half of the world's 150 planned reactors by 2025.

EDF is already building two reactors in Taishan with Chinese partner CGNPC.

The fact that China's two main nuclear companies - China General Nuclear Corporation (CGNPC) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) - are cooperating with EDF at Hinkley Point is an important step in seeking more Chinese deals, Bricq said.

"So I very well hope that we will get an answer to our questions. I went to visit the work site in Taishan near Guangzhou. They need to build 28 nuclear tranches. We are building two EPRs, and for the moment we don't have answers on what will happen next," she said.

"We are obviously interested in doing what remains to be done. China has enormous electricity needs and above all needs less pollution."

ANNIVERSARY

Political symbolism could also play a role, she said.

"Next year will be a very important year for France and China, because it will be the 50th anniversary of De Gaulle's recognition of the People's Republic of China ... it's something that remains very strong for the Chinese," Bricq said.

In 1964, late French leader Charles de Gaulle broke ranks with other Western countries such as the United States and Britain and officially recognised the Communist regime in Beijing. Ever since, Chinese and French leaders have cited the event as the foundation of modern Sino-French ties.

Asked about a French investigation on technology transfers to China launched last year, Bricq said she did not have any new information on the subject.

The French finance ministry started investigating whether agreements made between EDF and CGNPC respected French strategic interests, ruffling feathers in China.

"In these deals, the question that always get asked is the one of technology transfers. The nuclear industry is a strategic one," Bricq said.

The Hinkley Point deal was a boost to the French nuclear industry after it failed to secure a big contract in the United Arab Emirates in 2009, with experts blaming years of acrimony between EDF and Areva.

"For once, our nuclear giants got along well. It proves that it works," Bricq said.

"It was extremely important to achieve that. And let's render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. EDF's negotiator there (Vincent de Rivaz) was excellent, excellent. That being said, everybody chipped in," she said.

(editing by Jane Baird)

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