China still pursuing nuclear fuel processing plant with Areva: official

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is still actively promoting a nuclear fuel processing project with France’s Areva, the head of its nuclear safety watchdog said at a briefing on Tuesday, where he also criticized a U.S. blacklisting of Chinese nuclear firms.

Commercial negotiations on the Areva project are “almost concluded,” Liu Hua, the head of the National Nuclear Safety Administration and vice minister of ecology and environment, said at the briefing to introduce China’s first white paper on nuclear safety.

“In addition to commercial negotiation, what is going on is that the two countries are harmonizing safety standards ... and stepping up regulation cooperation,” he added.

“So on this particular project as far as I know it is proceeding smoothly. It is underway and I believe that soon ... there will be progress,” Liu said.

A formal go-ahead for the reprocessing plant would be a major boost for Areva, which has been discussing the project, valued at some $12 billion, for more than a decade.

Liu gave no indication whether a site had already been selected for the project, which has been repeatedly delayed, with a previously proposed venue in Lianyungang, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, canceled after protests.

Areva did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of normal business hours.

Asked about a recent U.S. blacklisting of Chinese nuclear firms, Liu said the Chinese side condemned the move and noted that U.S. multilateralism and protectionism would harm both countries’ interests.

Washington last month moved to block state-run China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN) and its subsidiaries from dealing with U.S. companies as they were alleged to be involved in activities contrary to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.

Liu also said the move would lead Chinese firms to step up their own research and development and investment.

Reporting by Tom Daly in BEIJING and David Stanway in SHANGHAI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell