AREVA, the world’s largest nuclear company, 80 percent owned by the French government, may be challenged for dominance in Europe shortly by its co-national and longtime rival, EDF, the French national utility.â€¨ â€¨
Relations between the two companies have been strained over a two-year delay and cost overruns at Flammanville, where a 1,650-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor is being built, the first new French reactor in 20 years. AREVA is also having similar difficulties at Olkiluoto-3, Finland, where the original EPR project, first licensed in 2000 and originally scheduled for completion in 2009, is now three years behind schedule and 50 percent over budget. Despite the delays, the Finnish Parliament has authorized construction of a fourth reactor at the site.â€¨
â€¨Problems with both reactors – plus the loss to a South Korean in the sweepstakes to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates – have caused soul-searching about France’s international nuclear effort. In July, the French government sought to bolster the national effort by having EDF raise its stake in AREVA from 2.4 percent to 7 percent and on Monday the government raised the figure to 15 percent.
EDF has now surprised everyone by suggesting it may begin its own reactor construction program instead. "It is true, . . . we and AREVA are unable to combine our engineering resources," a source inside EDF told Power-Gen Worldwide. The source said EDF’s reactors would probably be smaller, in the 1000 to 1500-MW range.
The rivalry between the two national corporations goes back to the earliest days of the French nuclear effort, when Charles de Gaulle created nuclear programs in two separate entities, EDF and the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique), the French equivalent of the Department of Energy.At the time, EDF was dominated by Communist labor unions, which welcomed nuclear energy as a triumph of the working class. AREVA was created in 2001 through the merger of Framatome, Cogma, and Technicatome, three construction companies. CEA now owns 80 percent of AREVA and the French government owns 85 percent of EDF.
Nuclear energy now makes up a considerable portion of the French economy. AREVA accounts for much of its international business and EDF’s exports 10 percent of its power each year to Germany and Italy, earning $8 billion a year, the country’s third largest source of foreign exchange.