EDF faces challenge over nuclear technology

Saturday, May 17, 2008

EDF, the French utility, could face a legal challenge over the technology it has decided to use in building Britain’s latest generation of power stations.

EDF announced last May that it planned to employ Areva, the French nuclear energy group, but its decision, which was made without giving rival reactor manufacturers an opportunity to bid for the contract, could be illegal under European law, according to Ros Kellaway, partner and head of EU competition law in Eversheds.

She cited an EU public procurement directive on the need for proper open competition for contracts in the power industry, as well as the Euratom Treaty, drafted in the 1950s.

The prospect of a legal battle over competition in the UK nuclear industry came as it also emerged that EDF has been buying land at sites in Somerset and Anglesey, manoeuvring itself into a position were it
could potentially build power stations even if it does not succeed in buying British Energy, the UK generator that is likely to play a key role in the drive to build new reactors through its ownership of most of the preferred sites.

EDF and other power companies are set to submit preliminary bids today.

Toshiba-Westinghouse, a rival maker of reactors, reactor manufacturer, is understood to be exploring a variety of options to ensure proper competition.

Ms Kellaway said that there could be grounds for a legal challenge over access to existing nuclear sites, which could be viewed as “emanations of the State” – a term that includes obligations guaranteeing access to rival power companies. “There is a range of competition issues that needs to be examined very carefully here,” she said.

The French group said: “EDF has taken legal advice on this issue and we are confident that we have acted and will continue to act in accordance with all the relevant European and UK legislation.”

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