A top French minister and the chief executives of French utility EDF and reactor builder Areva are visiting Saudi Arabia this weekend to build a case for selling French nuclear reactors to the oil-rich country.
Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg will meet with Saudi officials and with representatives of EDF and Areva, who opened a joint office in Riyadh six months ago to lay the groundwork for a French nuclear offer.
Montebourg will build on a November 4 visit by French President Francois Hollande to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and a 2011 agreement between France and Saudi Arabia that offered the Saudis atomic know-how and training for local staff.
The kingdom has not yet launched a formal tender offer but is widely expected to do so, and nuclear equipment vendors worldwide are gearing up for when it does.
"We are still in a very early stage of the game in Saudi Arabia," an EDF spokeswoman told Reuters.
Eager to reduce domestic consumption of oil and diversify its energy mix, Saudi Arabia is considering building 17 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2032, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) says on its website.
That is the equivalent of about 17 standard nuclear reactors, or about 10 of the 1600 megawatt European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) that Areva sells.
EDF CEO Henri Proglio and Areva CEO Luc Oursel will accompany Montebourg, putting up a united front despite years of acrimony between the two state-owned companies.
France plays a strong hand in Saudi Arabia, which has no nuclear capabilities of its own but has deep pockets and wants to acquire the most modern technology.
"Saudi Arabia will only deploy the most advanced and thoroughly tested technologies, paying maximum attention to safety, security and safeguards of the highest international standards," KACARE said on its website.
The third-generation EPR is one of the most modern reactors on the market. Conceived following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, it has a double containment wall, a "core catcher" to contain core meltdown and multiple backup and cooling systems.
Unlike other suppliers, Areva also sells uranium, offering utilities long-term supply contracts.
EDF positions itself as the only utility company that can lead the complex civil engineering project involved in building a nuclear power plant and can also offer help with operating the plants. More