Cablegate: France: Civil Nuclear Exports Boom
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R 171712Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2293
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TAGS: ENRG EIND ETRD KNNP PREL FR
SUBJECT: FRANCE: CIVIL NUCLEAR EXPORTS BOOM
Ref: 2004 STATE 8615
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1. (SBU) French President Sarkozy has announced contract signings or
preliminary discussions for the eventual export of French nuclear
technology during several recent trips abroad. Both France's
nuclear powerhouse Areva (reftel) and French government officials
emphasize that the export boom is focused on existing nuclear
countries, and that actual sales to new customers in the Middle-East
and Asia will not occur for many years, once safety and security
prerequisites are firmly in place. Areva plans to use partnerships
to implement many of these deals, a strategy that is likely to be
affected by ongoing discussions within the GOF about how to
recapitalize the firm.
2. (U) In 2001, the GOF regrouped the French nuclear industry into
industrial holding company, Areva, approximately 93 percent of which
is owned by the French government. The French Atomic Energy
Commission (CEA) holds 79 percent, the French state directly owns 5
percent, and the rest is held by the Caisse des Depots (3.5
percent), Electricite de France (EDF), Total, and employees.
Roughly 4 percent of Areva is traded as nonvoting investment
certificates on the Paris stock market. Areva is number one
worldwide in the nuclear power cycle. With a market value of
approximately 20 billion euros, Areva recently reported 14.5 percent
growth in 2007 profits, and has said it expects that its existing
backlog of 39.8 billion euros will increase in 2008 on the back of
continued strong growth.
3. (U) Areva is the only industrial group in the world involved in
the entire production cycle for nuclear energy.
Since its creation it has rapidly increased its business in Europe,
North America, and Asia. At the end of 2007, 62 percent of the
group's revenues came from Europe/CIS; 17 percent from North and
South America; 14 percent from Asia/Pacific; and 7 percent from
Africa. The roots of its current surge in foreign sales lie in the
development of a reactor based on a modernized third generation
version of current technology, the European Pressurized Water
Reactor (EPR), the first contract for which was awarded to Areva and
Siemens in 2003 by Finnish TVO.
Areva's export surge
4. (U) Reactor sales or nuclear cooperation agreements designed to
prepare the way for eventual sales have been announced recently in
China (8 billion euros for the sale of two EPR power plants plus
fuel), Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates (two
1600 megawatt reactors). Contacts have been made with India on a
potential agreement, and Areva has proposed construction of twelve
EPR reactors in South Africa. Areva is also proposing to build EPRs
in the UK and in the U.S., the latter via the Unistar nuclear
partnership with Constellation Energy.
5. (SBU) Though a good deal of attention has focused on recent
discussions with Middle-Eastern countries, Jacques Scheer,
Diplomatic Advisor to Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon told us that the
company expects 90 percent of its new business in the coming 30
years will be from countries that already have a nuclear industry.
Areva was particularly interested in the U.S., China, India, UK, and
South Africa. Brazil was restarting a nuclear program, and Areva saw
potential in replacing Central Europe's Soviet-era reactors as well.
Indonesia and Vietnam could also be potential markets. The demand
was so great Areva would have to forego participating in some
markets, probably in former Soviet Union (eg. Belarus).
6. (SBU) Areva is convinced that the prospects for nuclear energy
are so promising it is developing a long-term plan based on all the
reactor orders it expects by 2020-2025 and all the "factors"
required to manage these, including capital, material, new personnel
(particularly engineering talent) and training. Areva has hired
over 20,000 people in the past two years (out of a total of 65,000
employees) at a total cost of around 200 million euros per year.
Areva plans to hire another 12,000 people in 2008.
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7. (SBU) Scheer underlined that with the exception of Libya, which
has stockpiles of uranium of interest to Areva, Middle-Eastern
countries had "not been a priority" of the company before the recent
presidential announcements. Although Abu Dhabi has had a nuclear
cooperation agreement with France since 1980, and is reported to
want to move ahead quickly with construction, Areva Nuclear Power's
CEO Luc Oursel told Emboff bluntly that even this is "not a real
project" at present, and that the company had "no interest" in
seeing it move ahead quickly. As a company largely owned by the
French state, the diplomatic advisor Scheer said that Areva would
obviously not go into countries without a green light from the GOF.
However he underlined the distinction between the GOF signing a
cooperation agreement and Areva completing a contract for a reactor.
Areva would need to negotiate numerous preparatory MOUs before it
could contract and deliver reactors. Under the best case scenario
Scheer did not foresee reactors in any of these countries being
operational before 2020-25.
The road ahead
8. (SBU) GOF officials strongly support Areva's efforts to export
nuclear technology. They tout the environmental advantages of zero
carbon emissions (a politically potent argument in green-conscious
France) as well as the possibility it offers to oil producing states
to conserve fossil fuels, diversify their energy mix, and desalinate
water. They note that sales to developing countries are consistent
with the stipulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, and
that President Sarkozy has publicly pledged to help countries that
comply with the treaty develop a civil nuclear industry.
9. (SBU) However, Energy and MFA officials with whom we have
discussed these sales also note that discussions with these
countries are at a very preliminary stage, and that France is
committed to seeing that all appropriate safeguards for safety,
security, and non-proliferation are in place before any actual sales
take place. None of the recently announced nuclear cooperation
agreements has yet been officially signed, and all are subject to
prior EU review by EURATOM. None of the sales of reactors to new
nuclear countries involves fuel, and all would in any case be
subject to export controls of sensitive technology, which require
adequate guarantees about non-proliferation before completion.
Areva confirms that it does not envisage selling enrichment or
reprocessing technology to countries that do not require it, meaning
a minimum fleet of 20-30 reactors, which would exclude countries in
the Middle East. (Note: One exception may be China. The Chinese
have expressed interest in nuclear waste reprocessing technology.
Areva is scheduling very preliminary discussion with Chinese
authorities in the coming months.)
10. (SBU) French officials freely admit that there will be major
challenges ahead in developing a culture of safety and security in
aspiring nuclear countries. Nuclear cooperation agreements are only
the start. We have been told the GOF recently adopted a classified
road-map for implementing such agreements, and is considering
establishing a new office to manage international civil nuclear
cooperation sometime this spring. France will no doubt be looking
to international agencies such as IAEA to help to establish
prerequisite safety and security frameworks so that sales can
eventually be completed.
Areva's Partnership Strategy
11. (SBU) Recent announcements have confirmed Areva's strategy of
partnering with a variety of firms in export ventures. Scheer told
us that Areva wanted to overcome the perception that EDF was an
obligatory partner (though it is still very present in the U.S. and
China deals) in order to give customers flexibility and choice. Any
exclusive partnership with turbine manufacturer Alstom could mean
the loss of its partnership with Siemens, with which it has
developed the EPR, and which currently owns 33 percent of Areva's
reactor subsidiary. Bad blood between Siemens and Alstom goes back
to the development of high speed rail in the 1980s Scheer said, and
partnership with both was impossible. Local partners were essential
to some deals: China insisted on a partnership stake and technology
transfer in contracts for reactors. Areva partnered with Suez
rather than EDF in Abu Dhabi, and also brought in Total for its
knowledge of the region. Areva was working with a variety of firms
in building reactors, including leading French construction firms
Vinci and Bougyues.
12. (SBU) Areva's reliance on new partners may expose it to
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additional risks of delay or cost overruns. Construction of the
first EPR in Finland has proved far more time-consuming and costly
than expected. It is now two years behind schedule, and one to one
and one half billion euros over budget. Areva and its Finnish
partner TVO are trading charges about who is responsible for delays
in obtaining regulatory clearances. Other sources have told us that
the absence of a partner with experience building nuclear plants
(such as EDF) has contributed to these problems.
13. (U) Areva's booming sales and expansion strategy lend particular
significance to discussions about how it should be recapitalized to
support future growth. The GOF has been considering selling 35-40
percent of Areva since 2004. President Sarkozy's reported preference
for a marriage with another major French industrial company such as
Alstom or Bouygues has been fiercely resisted by CEO Anne
Lauvergeon, who wishes to maintain Areva's independence and unique
focus on an integrated nuclear cycle through a public offering of
shares, with only small cross-holdings available to partner
companies. Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is reported to have
given the results of an HSBC-McKinsey study of Areva privatization
to the Elysee early in February, where it is now being considered. A
final decision is expected in the coming weeks or months.
14. (SBU) Areva is well-positioned to take advantage of France's
sustained commitment to civil nuclear energy of the past 30 years,
as developed and developing countries alike look to diversify away
from fossil fuels for baseload electricity production. Most of its
exports will go to countries that already have developed nuclear
systems, and sales to emerging countries will be long in coming, if
at all. Often included in high-profile presidential "deliverables"
that include contracts for other infrastructure such as desalination
plants or high-speed trains, military equipment, or even strategic
assets such as the first-ever French military base in the Persian
Gulf, Areva's export surge demonstrates France's desire to use its
cutting-edge nuclear technology to develop long-term strategic and
commercial relationships that will help it to expand its influence
abroad and give it a "foot in the door" for future sales as
developing countries complete their infrastructure.
15. (SBU) Though Areva has moved to a strategy of multiple
partnerships designed to maximize its flexibility and ability to
meet local commercial constraints, many of these retain an aura of
"Made in France." Though the wind is blowing in CEO Lauvergeon's
direction at the moment, the Elysee's decision on how the firm will
be recapitalized will help determine whether this strategy will
prove sustainable over the long-term. In any case the assurance of
GOF assistance in creating the institutional infrastructure for
civil nuclear energy and in meeting the requirements of
international nuclear regulation will remain a critical factor in
selling reactors to new nuclear countries.