One of the main international customers for a much-delayed and costly nuclear reactor has expressed deep worries over the future of France’s atomic industry amid signs of political wrangling.
Finland’s TVO was the first customer for French nuclear group Areva’s European Pressurised Reactor technology — due to also be used at the UK’s controversial Hinkley Point power station — but the project has been beset by large cost overruns and a delay of almost a decade.
The two companies had been in negotiations in recent weeks to resolve multibillion-euro legal claims by both parties, as well as pave the way for the sale of a majority stake in Areva’s nuclear reactor business to French utility EDF.
But the sudden breakdown of those talks has rattled TVO, which operates some of Finland’s nuclear power plants. Jarmo Tanhua, chief executive, told the Financial Times of his big concerns about the future of France’s nuclear industry.
“We are afraid of what is happening. One thing is we don’t really understand why we don’t proceed with the negotiations. Our understanding is that it has something to do with the restructuring in France or the politics,” he said.
Mr Tanhua added that his biggest fear was that the French could decide to run down “some parts of the industry or some know-how”, particularly in its EPR technology.
The issue is likely to be raised by Finland’s prime minister, Juha Sipila, when he visits his French counterpart Manuel Valls on Wednesday in Paris.
The £18bn Hinkley Point project has raised political concerns in both the UK and France as well as worries about the viability of EDF, which is planning to build the power station based on Areva’s technology.
Areva’s EPR technology was meant to mark a renaissance for Europe’s nuclear industry, with TVO’s Olkiluoto 3 plant in Finland being the first new reactor in western Europe for decades.
But problems with the reactor’s design and lack of expertise has meant that Olkiluoto 3 is now due to start electricity production in 2018, compared with an original start date of 2009.
State-controlled Areva, and its former joint venture partner Siemens of Germany, are suing TVO for €3.5bn in an arbitration case, while the Finnish company is countersuing for €2.6bn.
Mr Tanhua said he believed TVO and Areva had been “quite close to agreement” over settling the legal disputes, and allowing the carveout of any liabilities from Olkiluoto 3 to enable state-controlled EDF to buy its stake in Areva NP, the reactor business.
He added co-operation with Areva at the construction site had been going well and no further delays were expected.
But he underscored that TVO — which is owned by Finnish energy companies — could not take part in the EDF-Areva restructuring or settle the legal dispute without agreement on completing Olkiluoto 3.
“The question is basically now how the French parties are committed to put the nuclear industry back on track for future success. Is the French government committed to the industry? We hope and want to be part of French nuclear success. But we don’t know if we are allowed to,” he added.
Areva said it “has been and remains fully engaged in finalising the [Olkiluoto 3] reactor project”.
It added: “The objective of the restructuring under way in the French nuclear industry is to reinforce the industry’s expertise for the future development of nuclear in France and for customers around the world.”
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