France, China agree on €10bn nuclear reprocessing plant

After more than 10 years of negotiations, French nuclear power company New Areva has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build a €10bn plant in China to reprocess nuclear waste.

Considered crucial to the future of the French company, the arrangement was signed today in Beijing in the presence of presidents Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping.

Although not legally binding, the agreement does commit the two sides to reaching the final handshake as soon as possible and to begin work on the plant in the course of 2018.

Philippe Knoche, the chief executive of New Areva, said in a press statement: "CNNC and New Areva have stepped up their efforts to reach agreement on the contract and we are seeing today very positive results. I am looking forward to finalising the negotiations soon, and starting the implementation of this landmark project with our partner CNNC in 2018."

The site will be built in China, and will follow the basic design of France’s La Hague reprocessing plant in Normandy.

French newspaper Le Monde commented that the deal between New Areva and CNNC has been under discussion for so long, with so many changes of direction and disappointments, that it had became something of a joke in the world of the French nuclear power.

The deal is important for New Areva because with Japan, German and the US effectively out of the nuclear business, and with France placing more emphasis on renewables, China looks set to become the centre of the world’s nuclear power industry.

It also allows the French company to make the most of its expertise in nuclear fuel. China plans to avoid future uranium shortages by becoming one of the few countries in the world to build a "closed fuel cycle" industry, in which waste is reprocessed into new fuel.

This is New Areva’s speciality and, given the fact that Areva Group has made 6,000 employees redundant in the past two years, China represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the company to secure its future.

It also builds on the close relationship that has developed between EDF, the main French energy utility, and CNNC, with the French company holding 30% of the Taishan reactor (pictured), due to go online this year in southeast China.
Image: The Taishan nuclear plant under construction in Guangdong province (ULMA Construction)

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