NEW DELHI - French energy giant EDF is making progress in talks to sell India six nuclear reactors, said its chief executive on Thursday, with the stalled projects of rivals making him more confident a contract could be agreed sooner than first expected.
CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy declined to commit to a timeline for when a contract could be signed on a 9,900 megawatt (MW) nuclear power project in Maharashtra. The plant has been under discussion since 2009 without making much headway.
Much work remains to be done, including agreeing the cost and financing for the project, but if a deal is reached, it would be among the world's biggest nuclear contracts ever.
India plans to triple its nuclear capacity by 2024 to wean Asia's third-largest economy off polluting fossil fuels.
Those ambitious plans took a hit when Japanese-owned U.S.-based Westinghouse - which wants to build six AP1000 reactors in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh - filed for Chapter 11 in March, throwing that project into doubt.
"We are making progress. We are ready to get to the next phase [to sign a contract]," Levy told Reuters in an interview during a visit to New Delhi.
"The competitive situation is less crowded," he said, although he did not specifically mention Westinghouse.
EDF - whose proposal along with the Westinghouse project is central to New Delhi's nuclear power goal - is looking to markets like India to offset weak demand and overcapacity in its core European markets.
French state-controlled group Areva had already been in talks with India about the proposed six European Pressurised Water nuclear reactors (EPR) in Jaitapur south of Mumbai, when it agreed to be bought out by EDF. EDF then signed a preliminary agreement with Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd [ in January 2016.
The Jaitapur project in Maharashtra state was also given a new lease on life when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ex-French President Francois Hollande said they would hasten the talks, although the target of beginning construction in early 2017 has been missed.
Indian consumers could expect to get electricity, if an agreement is reached, from EDF-built reactors around the middle of the next decade, Levy said.
Some analysts in India question the merit of huge nuclear projects, given the potential for cost overruns and long delays, and with the falling prices of alternative sources of energy.
Levy said EDF would also invest more than $1 billion in India over the next three to five years to increase its wind and solar power capacity to around 2,000 MW from 400 MW today.
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Tom Hogue)