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UPDATE 1-EU plans nuclear clampdown, France may profit
March 23, 2011 / 3:29 PM / in 7 years

UPDATE 1-EU plans nuclear clampdown, France may profit

* Summit of EU leaders to demand nuclear stress tests - draft

* Rules to benefit France’s ‘next generation’ EPR reactors

(Adds background)

By Pete Harrison

BRUSSELS, March 23 (Reuters) - European leaders look set to adopt tough measures on nuclear safety this week, a draft paper seen by Reuters showed, a move that could benefit France as it seeks to create a selling point for its advanced EPR reactors.

European governments have swiftly reviewed their nuclear policy in the wake of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which crippled the Fukushima power plant 150 miles north of Tokyo and sent radiation into the environment. [ID:nL3E7EM3EM]

Germany quickly suspended operations at seven ageing nuclear plants; Austria demanded pan-European ‘stress tests’; Italy announced a one-year moratorium on new plants, and Bulgaria tightened restrictions on its Belene nuclear project near a quake zone.

France, a major exporter of nuclear technology, has advocated the safety aspects of its next generation EPR reactors as it competes for business on international markets.

A major clampdown on nuclear safety could translate into new revenues for French reactor maker Areva CEPFi.PA, which says its latest generation plants are safer than older technology and can resist major shocks such as earthquakes and plane crashes.

“The safety of EU nuclear plants should be reviewed, on the basis of a comprehensive and transparent risk and safety assessment -- stress tests,” said a draft declaration prepared for EU leaders to sign at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The draft also said stress tests should be developed as soon as possible, and make full use of experts -- notably from the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association (WENRA).

France has already backed WENRA -- which seeks to spread best practice in nuclear safety -- as a basis for common security rules, at an emergency meeting of European energy ministers earlier this week. [ID:nLDE72K0EI]

“The WENRA can be an interesting base to work on this,” French industry minister Eric Besson told reporters after the ministers’ meeting, calling for WENRA’s “third generation security objectives to be spread across Europe”.

“With the EPR, France already has a third generation product so we have a number of assets when we talk about the future of the nuclear industry,” he added.

Areva is building 4 nuclear plants -- one in France, one in Finland and two in China, but it has struggled to sell more.

Its management have come under fire for trying to sell powerful, expensive reactors to emerging economies, when many countries might prefer cheaper technology that is tried and tested.

Cost overruns at an Areva-built plant in Finland and the loss of a $40 billion contract in Abu Dhabi to a South Korean consortium have added to its problems. [ID:nLDE72G1LH]

But Japan’s nuclear crisis has changed the landscape for salesmen of nuclear plants.

Areva will be looking to play that to its advantage against international rivals if Poland goes ahead with plans to build its first reactors to produce 6 gigawatts of power. [ID:nLDE72M0ST]

Britain has also been planning a nuclear renaissance to replace its ageing reactors, providing lucrative opportunities for utilities and construction firms. [ID:nLDE72G1MO]

Reporting by Pete Harrison and Julien Toyer, editing by Rex Merrifield and Keiron Henderson

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