Nuclear implodes, the state interposes



During the delivery of the tank of Flamanville, in October 2013.

Concerned about the serious difficulties encountered by Areva and EDF, the government is considering a revision of the French model.

Areva in full financial defeat, between nuclear winter and curse of the EPR. EDF hardly better off, with tens of billions to find to extend its fleet of 58 aging reactors. And now the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) pulls out its big stick to hit our two “champions” of the atom after the discovery of a “serious anomaly” on the tank of the EPR reactor of the Flamanville plant built by EDF. Serious glitch after the industrial disaster of the Finnish EPR Olkiluoto operated this time by Areva. In short, there is fire to the French nuclear industry and the State shareholder (87% of the capital of Areva and 84% of EDF) must play firefighters to stem a chain reaction that threatens the heart of its energy power Regalien: the nuclear, it is 80% of our electricity and a sector directly employing 125 000 people in France. This is the bomb that landed on the Empire office of Manuel Valls, March 3, when Areva announced a hole in its accounts deeper than the peak of Bure: 4.83 billion euros just for 2014! The group is almost bankrupt. And the executive has made the regulation of this undermined file a priority.


Thursday evening at 19 hours, the Prime Minister has summoned to Matignon Philippe Varin, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Areva, and Jean-Bernard Lévy, CEO of EDF. Officially, nothing should filter this crisis meeting. But, in essence, the message from Valls to Varin and Levy was this: “Make it your own way, but I want a rapprochement between EDF and Areva by the end of April to stem the disaster and constitute a new France’s nuclear team. A real ultimatum knowing that on March 4, Francois Hollande had politely asked ” the leaders of the two companies to present a rapprochement that could be presented in a few months . Especially since Valls, who is a man in a hurry, has already on the table two scenarios tied up by his favorite Minister of Economy, Emmanuel Macron: 1. Force EDF to buy Areva NP (the former Framatome), which designs and manufactures nuclear reactors, including the EPR problem. 2. Simply transfer Areva’s reactor engineering teams to EDF to make only “a French team of nuclear engineering”.

According to our information, the first scenario, although heavier and risky for EDF, has the clear preference of Bercy, and beyond, Valls. Macron pushes this financial scheme thoroughly “as a good banker of business that he is” an opponent to the idea. Good sources, the Agency of the participations of the State (APE), with the maneuver on this file, took as advice Messier Maris and Associates … the investment bank of Jean-Marie Messier, the man who created and nearly ran Vivendi.

White knight.

The brainchild of Macron and the EPA amounts to dismantling Areva, born in 2001 from the merger between Framatome (reactors) and Cogema (fuel and waste). Because Areva NP, which manufactures the major components of the reactors in its factory in Chalon, is one of the three pillars of the group, with upstream fuel and waste processing downstream. A big pillar of the business generates almost half of the turnover and employs half of its 42,000 employees in the group.

The scenario number 1 is also to bring to EDF all the risk of the EPR, and in particular “the finnish mess of OL3 whose cost has more than doubled, to 8 billion euros, and which remains a legal risk and major financial Areva can say “OL3 kill me” “ , we are alarmed in the camp of the electrician. “To buy a supplier [Areva] by his client [EDF] is not really a good idea. We never saw that “ echoes the atomist house across the way.

In short, the two companies stand up against scenario 1 and push scenario 2, which involves transferring 2,000 to 3,000 Areva engineers to EDF. But for now, Bercy sees only benefits to this capital scenario: the state, therefore the taxpayer, will not have to recapitalize, in the immediate future, the nuclear giant sick whose cash needs are 3 billion euros first. It is EDF that will bank by buying Areva NP.But still, it is necessary a valorization … “For EDF, the valuation is zero considering the risk”, amuses a close file. But Areva needs fresh money.

We are headed towards a scenario 1 bis, which consists of buying EDU reactors from Areva by housing them in an entity separate from the electrician. The problem of the Finnish EPR which reduces to zero the value of Areva NP, with 4.5 billion provisions? “Why not a quartering structure that would take out the risk?” Says an observer. And if Areva “does its job of recovery” – in short, the restructuring that worries the CGT energy (read opposite) -, the State “will assume its role of shareholder by recapitalizing Areva. “But at the end of the process,” not until next year.

Varin and Levy still hope to block this gas plant. Ready to team up in engineering, but everyone at home. And at Areva, we dream of a Chinese white knight who could take a part in the group or bring fresh money via a joint venture. Areva has already concluded agreements with local energy companies CNNC and CGN for the two Taishan EPRs 1 and 2. But beware of the transfer of technology. Bercy phosphorus, but the scenario monster of a takeover of half of Areva by EDF holds the rope