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EDF signs preliminary deal to build six nuclear plants in India

PARIS (Reuters) - French utility EDF said on Tuesday it had signed a preliminary agreement with Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL) to build six nuclear reactors at Jaitapur, in the west of India.

A policeman stands at a kiosk at the proposed site of the Jaitapur nuclear plant in Ratnagiri district, about 360 km (224 miles) south of Mumbai, April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files

EDF is taking over the long-delayed project, which could become the world’s biggest nuclear contract, from fellow French state-controlled group Areva, which will sell its reactor arm to EDF later this year.

The Jaitapur project is at the preliminary technical studies stage after getting initial environmental clearance in 2010, EDF said in a statement. A contract for pre-engineering studies was signed by Areva and NPCIL last April.

EDF said that in the next few months it would continue work started by Areva and NPCIL to secure certification for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) reactor in India and to finalise the economic and financial conditions.

The six 1650 megawatt EPR reactors with a combined capacity of nearly 10,000 MW would make Jaitapur one of the world’s biggest nuclear sites and the contract, if finalised, one of the largest in the history of the nuclear industry.

But Indian legislation on manufacturer’s liability has long blocked French, US and Russian nuclear projects in the country.

General Electric Chairman Jeff Immelt said in September that GE will not invest in atomic energy in India until accident liability laws are brought in line with global practice.

With the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in mind, India’s parliament passed a law six years ago that makes equipment suppliers responsible for an accident.

Strong local opposition to the project, haggling over price, massive delays and cost overruns at EPRs under construction in France and Finland and the takeover of Areva’s reactor arm by EDF are also delaying the huge project.

French President Francois Hollande, making a state visit to India, said on Monday that an agreement to build the six nuclear reactors should be concluded within a year.

Hollande and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a joint statement they had agreed to hasten the nuclear talks and aim for construction to begin in early 2017.

EDF also said its EDF Energies Nouvelles unit had agreed to a partnership with India’s SITAC to build four onshore wind farms by the end of 2016 with a total capacity of 142 MW in the state of Gujarat.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by James Regan and Keith Weir