French Nuclear Juggernaut Facing $4 Bn Hole


French nuclear company Areva is facing a $4 billion hole in its budget for 2009 investment, reports the Wall Street Journal. The company which has plans for 14 nuclear reactors in the decade will either need direct government support or will have to start selling off assets to finance this years budget.

This year’s budget need marks only the beginning of Areva’s dash for cash. The company requires roughly €10 billion over the next four years to finance investments in uranium mines, nuclear-fuel production plants and heavy-parts manufacturing. Areva also needs €2 billion by 2012 to buy back shares in its nuclear-reactor unit after minority shareholder Siemens AG pulled out. Areva may also have to pay a hefty penalty because of delays in building a nuclear reactor in Finland.

Areva’s scramble for cash highlights how far the global credit drought has spread, hurting even those industries that should be enjoying healthy growth.

Areva is profitable, thanks to its maintenance services and strong sales of nuclear-plant parts. It posted a net profit of €760 million on revenue of €6.17 billion in the first half of last year. Still, the company consumes more cash than it generates from operations. And with its credit rating placed under negative watch by Standard & Poor’s last month, Areva says it won’t take on much more debt than the €4.5 billion it had last summer. On Friday, France’s white-collar labour union said any government delay in filling holes in Areva’s finances could force the company to freeze investment, something that would “lead to job cuts.”