November 3, 2009 / 12:49 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Areva shares fall over nuclear safety concerns

* New reactor design criticised by French politicians

* Follows calls for modification by nuclear safety bodies

* Shares close almost 4 percent down

(Recasts lead, updates throughout)

By Nina Sovich

PARIS, Nov 3 (Reuters) - A new generation of French nuclear power reactors came under attack on Tuesday as opposition parties called for an inquiry into their security systems, after three nuclear safety bodies asked for changes to their design.

In a rare joint statement, nuclear safety bodies in France, Britain and Finland on Monday ordered France’s Areva CEPFi.PA and EDF (EDF.PA) to modify the safety features on its European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) due to insufficient independence between the day-to-day systems and the emergency systems.

Opponents to nuclear power latched on to the news, with France’s opposition socialist party calling for a parliamentary inquiry.

CAP21, a political party founded by Corrine Lepage, a former environment minister, also said more investment should be made in renewable energy rather than nuclear.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has championed nuclear power, both at home and abroad, where he hopes French companies will benefit from a global drive to find ways of generating electricity that produce less CO2 emissions and are independent of oil price fluctuations.

The design problems come as a blow to Areva, which has staked its export growth on the EPR and is hoping that it will beat out American rival Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba (6502.T), to become the standard-bearer for a new generation of nuclear plants.

Pierre Boucheny head of French research at financial service company Kepler capital markets told Reuters Areva’s financial visibility was obscured by unexpected hitches and delays in the construction of the firm’s first EPR in Finland.

“This problem (over safety) might cause a delay of a few months, maybe more, but it’s hard to say what it will cost,” he said.

Non-voting shares in Areva closed 3.9 percent lower at 8.75 euros.

Areva said on Monday it was in talks to modify the design of the EPR plants before the end of the year and insisted the safety of the EPR plants was not in question.

EDF, which operates all of France’s 19 nuclear power plants, said on Tuesday it had been asked to conduct a closer study of secondary systems at its Flamanville EPR reactor and would respond by year-end.

Areva has started building two EPRs in China’s Guangdong province and in January Sarkozy gave approval for the construction of a second EPR plant in France.

Areva has also joined forces with Total (TOTF.PA) and GDF Suez GSZ.PA in a consortium to bid build at least four nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates

Britain also is mulling whether to relaunch its nuclear energy programme with modern plants and the Italian government has signalled that it intends to build four new nuclear plants.

For a factbox on the French nuclear power sector please click on [ID:nL6611877] (Additional reporting by Muriel Boselli; Editing by Tim Hepher and Jon Loades-Carter)

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