France Seeks Foreign Cash to Grow Nuclear Sector

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"France pledged 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) to support next generation reactor design. . ."

France pledged 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) to support next generation reactor design and said it would seek foreign capital to back its move to the forefront of nuclear energy expansion.

The investment is part of a 35 billion-euro spending plan French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled on Monday aimed at improving France's competitiveness.

The new nuclear projects, dubbed fourth generation reactors, would recycle uranium and plutonium, creating less waste, he told a press conference.

As concerns rise over dwindling oil supplies and the environmental hazards of global warming, nuclear energy, which produces almost no carbon dioxide, has come back into vogue.

The French government, which owns majority stakes in both nuclear reactor maker Areva and utility giant EDF, is trying to position France as the market leader in designing and running these power plants.

"Do we need external partners? Yes, I can say so without taking the risk of predicting a decision. Why? Because it's an industry that is capital intensive," Sarkozy said.

The cost of a European Pressurized Reactor—the type of nuclear plant France's reactor maker Areva is constructing in France, Finland and China—is between 5 and 6 billion euros, industry experts say.

To fund these costs, the French government recently asked Areva to sell its electricity business for some 4 billion euros. It has also invited foreign utilities to take stakes in new plants being built in France.

During the press conference, Sarkozy also hinted that the nuclear industry, which has already been shaken by the entrance of EDF's new chief executive, Henri Proglio, could be further reorganized.

"In the coming weeks, we could be brought to making choices that give the best chances to the French nuclear industry," Sarkozy said.

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