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France's Areva Seals $11.86 Billion China Nuclear Deal

France's Areva on Monday clinched the biggest commercial nuclear power contract on record, agreeing to sell China two reactors and to provide atomic fuel for nearly two decades in a deal worth far more than expected.

At 8 billion euro ($11.86 billion) the contract would be more than double the price tag first mooted 10 months ago, when Beijing signaled it would give the French state-owned firm a slice of its ambitious nuclear expansion plan.

Areva said its deal was "unprecedented in the world nuclear market" and marked "the start of a global and sustainable cooperation" with the China Guangdong Nuclear Power (CGNPC), which will help build the plant in southern China.

"It reaffirms our global nuclear leadership and reinforces our presence in one of the most promising markets for decades to come," Areva President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Lauvergeon said, according to a company statement.

French utility EDF would finance 30 percent of the deal in return for a stake in the plant, Lauvergeon said.

The deal also secures Beijing access to uranium by allowing CGNPC to buy 35 percent of the production of UraMin, a subsidiary of Areva focused on uranium mining in Africa.

Beijing is growing increasingly anxious about securing the imported energy and commodity resources necessary to fuel its economic growth, and has tended to favor investors in these sectors who are able to guarantee supplies.

Surprise

A year ago, Areva appeared in danger of losing out on China's plans to roughly quadruple its nuclear capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, after U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric, now owned by Japan's Toshiba, sealed a deal for four reactors.

Westinghouse won a deal then estimated at $8 billion to help build "third generation" nuclear power plants, which are promoted as safer and more efficient than current ones.

But Beijing later surprised both sides by expanding the original tender from four plants to six, giving the French company a fresh chance at a piece of China's growing nuclear pie.

The agreement, covering 3.4 gigawatts of capacity, is Areva's first China contract for its European pressurized reactors, although it already has a presence in the country.

The reactors are expected to start generating power in 2014 and Areva will provide fuel to run them through 2026.

The announcement was part of a raft of deals agreed during Nicolas Sarkozy's first visit to China as president of France.

Sarkozy has pressed Beijing to help curtail Iran's nuclear plans. But a brace of deals announced during his visit showed France is eager to court China's own atomic power sector.

Areva and the China National Nuclear agreed to study whether to build a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing-recycling plant in China that could be worth 15 billion euros and to create a joint venture in zirconium.

The euro denomination will please Paris, which has been expressing growing concern about the weakness of the dollar.

The U.S. currency last week fell to a record low against the euro.