Several key agreements were signed during the first visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to China in the company of a business delegation.

On 10 January, Framatome’s CEO Bernard Fontana signed a  protocol with China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC’s) Chairman Wang Shoujun. This protocol lays the basis for future strategy and long-term cooperation between the two companies. Framatome and CNNC plan to extend their cooperation in nuclear fuel design, engineering and services; enhance collaboration on digital instrumentation and control for nuclear plants; and increase cooperation in maintenance, safety and operation upgrades for in-service reactors. A joint working group will be set up by Framatome and CNNC to action the protocol.

In parallel, a ten-year contract renewal was signed between Framatome and CNEIC (a subsidiary of CNNC in the field of fuel components. Framatome has been providing fuel components to China for 20 years based on its supply chain in France and China. Framatome (formerly Areva NP) is owned by the EDF Group (75.5%), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (19.5%) and Assystem (5%).

CGN and CEA team up

Also, on 9 January,  an agreement was signed between Chinese reactor operator China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) and the French Alternative Energy and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), focusing on nuclear reactor technology, advanced fuels and materials, and nuclear fuel cycles.

CGN and CEA plan to strengthen cooperation in the upstream and downstream nuclear power industry chain, including reactor life management and the concept design of the fourth-generation nuclear energy technology. CGN chairman He Yu said the agreement would open new space for Sino-French nuclear power cooperation.

New Areva and CNNC work towards new reporcessing plant

Meanwhile, New Areva and CNNC signed a memorandum of commercial agreement reaffirming their commitment to complete negotiations on a contract for construction of a Chinese commercial used fuel treatment-recycling. New Areva said in a statement that "substantial progress" has been made in negotiations during the past few months, and that the project could be launched later this year. The reprocessing plant is expected to have a capacity of 800t a year and will be modelled on France's La Hague and Melox facilities.

However,  officials said the price for transferring technology remained a sticking point, Reuters reported. "We have the assurance of a contract with a deadline and a signature in the spring, and this will save the industry. It is worth €10bn ($12bn)," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters in Beijing.

"The talks with the Chinese are extraordinarily difficult because their strategy is not to imitate the technology but to improve it," he said, adding that France had "made an effort" on the price to try to unblock the talks.

New Areva CEO Philippe Knoche, said: "I am looking forward to finalising the negotiations soon, and starting the implementation of this landmark project with our partner CNNC in 2018.” An initial agreement to assess the feasibility of the project was signed in 2007, and technical talks were completed in June 2015. Since when several agreements have been signed during high-level government visits, but no contract.

The initial target had been to commission the plant by 2030, meaning that work would have to start by 2020. Another problem relates to siting the facility. Areva’s statement gave no details of a location. After authorities in the eastern coastal city of Lianyungang suspended preliminary work on a proposed site in 2016 following protests by residents, CNNC and the government are now looking at 6-10 coastal sites, with other locations also being considered.

EDF agreement with Chinese municipalities

French energy company EDF also signed two contracts with Chinese municipalities for cooling and heating networks during Macron’s visit.

Fabrice Fourcade, chairman of EDF China, told Global Times that energy cooperation and especially nuclear energy cooperation “is one of the pillars of relations between France and China”.

EDF’s project to build two EPR reactors designed by Areva and constructed by CGN at China’s Taishan nuclear plant has met with delays. However, Fourcade said the project “has achieved significant progress in 2017 with the completion of the hot functional tests”. He added: “The next chapter of our partnership with CGN will be the UK projects. We are jointly developing the Hinkley Point EPR power plant, and we will cooperate on two other nuclear plants in Sizewell and Bradwell.”

CGN specialists recenlty begun geological surveys at the Bradwell B NPP site, which is expected to use Chinese Hualong One reactors. CGN said in a statement on 9 January that the purpose of initial surveys is to collect seismological data. EDF said the reference plant for Bradwell B is CGN’s Fangchenggang 3, which is under construction and on schedule.

More than 30 years of cooperation

France and China have cooperated on nuclear energy for over 30 years. In 2014 a joint statement by then French President Francois Hollande and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to encourage "industrial and institutional" stakeholders to advance cooperation in the entire nuclear fuel cycle, including nuclear plant safety, used fuel recycling, new-build projects and uranium mining. Some nuclear cooperation agreements were signed in July 2015, with Areva and CNNC agreeing to cooperate in the nuclear fuel cycle, decommissioning, transportation and recycling.