France's GDF Suez eyes role in Saudi nuclear bid

CEO says in talks about possible bid in kingdom, which is planning 17GW of nuclear capacity by 2032

Utility GDF Suez would consider a role in an expected French bid to build a nuclear-reactor project in Saudi Arabia, CEO Gerald Mestrallet said in an interview with business daily Les Echos published on Friday.

The possibility of a role in the Saudi bid, which has so far been dominated by French utility EDF and reactor builder Areva, was one of several comments Mestrallet made indicating the company wants to expand its nuclear business despite some recent hiccups.

GDF's Belgian unit Electrabel last year halted its two nuclear reactors there after finding indications of cracks in the reactor tanks. In May, the utility said it would start work to restart the two plants.

GDF was part of a consortium, also including EDF, Areva and oil major Total, which suffered a shock loss of a $40 billion contract in Abu Dhabi in 2009.

Mestrallet said GDF was in talks about a possible bid in Saudi Arabia, which is considering building 17 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2032.

"GDF is ready to cooperate, on the condition that we are given the right amount of room," he said.

More broadly, after winning a contract to build a plant in Turkey, as part of a consortium including Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd and Itochu Corporation, GDF is feeling optimistic about its chances of winning additional contracts, he was quoted as saying.

At the same time, its goals in the nuclear area remain measured at a time the company is seeking to sell assets to cut its debt burden.

"We will never take an entire nuclear project on our balance sheet," he said. "We will always be in partnerships, at least at the 50 percent level."

Separately, newspaper Le Figaro reported that GDF and Areva were "very seriously" considering a partnership to bid for French offshore wind-energy projects.

GDF and Areva declined to comment, the newspaper said.

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