Duke CEO sees nuclear front-runners emerging

* Duke CEO sees GE as less aggressive in nuclear space

* Says industrial power demand still down

SAN FRANCISCO, June 24 (Reuters) - Duke Energy Corp DUK.N Chief Executive Jim Rogers sees Areva CEPFi.PA and Toshiba's 6502.T Westinghouse emerging as front-runners in the design of reactors for a much-anticipated U.S. nuclear revival.

While Rogers felt there was room for more than one reactor technology, he said GE Hitachi GE.N6501.T seemed to be overshadowed by the aggressive approach of the other two firms.

“You’re already starting to see a sorting out,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a San Francisco meeting of the U.S. power industry, hosted by the Edison Electric Institute.

Duke, the third-largest U.S. nuclear power provider, has applied to build two Westinghouse reactors in South Carolina.

But the company said last week it was also looking at building a 1,600-megawatt reactor in Ohio with France's Areva, along with uranium enrichment company USEC Inc USU.N and UniStar -- a joint venture of U.S.-based Constellation Energy Group Inc CEG.N and Electricite de France SA EDF.PA.

Bringing in partners was vital given the cost of building a reactor, Rogers said.

“To build one nuclear plant with our own balance sheet is a ‘bet-the-company’ (move),” he said, adding that there should be more consolidation of the U.S. power industry anyway given the need for scale in general.

He also said demand from industrial customers of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke remained weak due to the economic slump. “It’s off, it’s not coming ... it’s still off.”

Rogers, who has become a leading industry advocate for “green” causes, argued that any utility’s mix of energy should be varied due to the risks involved in backing just one.

Consequently, Duke, which is also the third-largest U.S. producer of electricity from coal, is betting on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology to reduce coal’s CO2 output -- despite lingering doubts about whether it will work.

“It’s kind of like the nuclear renaissance also, which is five to 10 years away,” Rogers said of CCS.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received 17 applications to build 26 new reactors in the United States. The nuclear industry expects to have four new reactors in service by 2016 and as many as eight by 2018.

Rogers said a big advantage of nuclear, particularly as intermittent power sources such as solar and wind develop, was the fact it provided power more than 90 percent of the time, compared with less than 75 percent for coal plants.

Duke owns and operates about 39,000 MW of generating capacity in North America and Latin America, markets energy commodities, and transmits and distributes electricity to about 4 million U.S. customers in the Carolinas and the Midwest.

Rogers, who has been a CEO in the power industry for two decades, said there were very good business reasons behind his public advocacy for energy efficiency.

“I want to be in a position when I ask permission to build a nuclear plant that I’ve done everything I can to reduce usage on my system, so that I have credibility when I say I need a nuclear plant.”

(Reporting by Braden Reddall)

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