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French firm sees new era in China

Publication Date : 03-06-2014

 

France, which has a long history of aiding China's nuclear development, wants to cooperate with the country on a more equal basis to win bids in third markets.

"Our relationship with China is no longer a teacher-student relationship," said Herve Machenaud, executive vice-president and head of the Asia-Pacific branch of French power giant Electricite de France SA.

"Our Chinese partners have gained and improved substantially in terms of nuclear technology and expertise, and we are now equal partners in international cooperation," he said.

Machenaud was commenting on the Britain's Hinkley Point C nuclear power project, which will be jointly built and developed by EDF and its Chinese partners China General Nuclear Power Group Corp and China National Nuclear Corp. The two Chinese companies hold a minority stake in the US$26.9 billion British project, which is expected to supply 7 per cent of Britain's electricity.

The British project is under review by the European Commission, which is expected to announce its decision this year.

Machenaud noted that China will soon have key industrial advantages in building and managing new nuclear power plants, given that the country plans to build eight to 15 reactors each year.

"Nuclear cooperation between China and France will have significant implications for the global nuclear industry. I hope the British project will be a good start to our joint efforts to develop the international nuclear market," Machenaud said.

China has become the world's largest nuclear power market, with about 35 reactors due for completion by 2020.

The country's strong capital position and its ability to build nuclear power plants more cheaply than Western players has made it an increasingly attractive investor as many countries are faced with budget constraints even as they need to upgrade aging nuclear energy facilities, analysts have said.

In the meantime, Western power operators such as EDF have been under pressure to lower the costs of engineering and building nuclear plants while incorporating greater safety margins into their designs.

"We hope cooperation with China on the British project is not just a financial but a true industrial cooperation where both parties can share and exchange key nuclear expertise," said Guy Bettoun, director of industrial partnerships at EDF.

Machenaud said that China has emerged as a major potential competitor to France in the global nuclear power market. But he noted that cooperation between China and France is still possible because China has extensive experience in building new projects, while France has 25 years of expertise in operating and managing nuclear plants with the highest safety standards.

"Competition with China does exist in equipment supply and the development of new reactors. This is why it is important for us to establish joint ventures with China and to co-develop nuclear reactors in order to transform competition into new opportunities," he said.

During President Xi Jinping's visit to France in March, EDF and CGNPG signed a global partnership agreement and renewed a deal signed in 2010, which will allow the two companies to continue their cooperation in the engineering, operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants.

Machenaud emphasised the importance of the Chinese market for EDF and said he hoped to see greater French nuclear exports to China, which is considering resuming the construction of inland nuclear plants to fight air pollution.

"It is difficult to forecast French nuclear exports to China, but one thing for sure is that French nuclear enterprises won't be able to create jobs at home if they do not seek development in the Chinese market," he said.

 

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