* Areva may set up JVs with EDF for exports, fuel recycling
* Areva could become nuclear holding company with partners
* Consensus growing that Areva, EDF future closely linked
* Source confirms reports on planned 1 bln euro cost cuts (Adds analyst comment, detail on business model, legal claims)
By Benjamin Mallet
PARIS, Feb 5 (Reuters) - France’s Areva is drafting a plan to let utility EDF take a stake in some of its businesses, giving the indebted nuclear group a capital boost and strengthening the link between the two firms, a source familiar with the situation said.
The source told Reuters that as part of a new strategy to be presented by Areva’s new management on March 4, the company is considering setting up joint ventures with EDF to export nuclear reactors and for the treatment and recycling of nuclear fuel.
“This scenario should be a major element of the plan,” the source said, adding there was a growing consensus that Areva’s future will be closely linked to that of EDF.
Areva’s nuclear reactor sales have slumped partly as a result of governments turning against nuclear power in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Areva has made losses in the past 3 years, pays no dividend, and its shares, down 52 percent over the past 12 months, are the worst performers in France’s SBF 120 index.
The firm had net debt of 4.7 billion euros on June 30, 2014 and its bonds were downgraded to non-investment grade late last year.
Under the new plan, EDF could inject capital into Areva, and let Areva share risk and investments with EDF, which accounted for 30 percent of Areva’s sales in 2013.
The two publicly owned firms - the state has 87 percent of Areva and 84.5 percent of EDF - already have close links after Areva Chairman Philippe Varin was made a board member of EDF late last year.
EDF said last month its new CEO Jean-Bernard Levy is in talks with Chinese utilities CGN and CNNC about developing new nuclear power plants in China, which would pave the way for cooperation between EDF, Areva and their Chinese partners to develop a new reactor model.
The source said Areva’s new strategy could be to put some activities in separate legal entities in which outside investors could take a stake, with Areva becoming a holding company that manages its subsidiaries with its partners.
Areva, EDF and state holding company and Areva shareholder APE declined to comment.
In 2011, the government allowed Areva to set up a separate subsidiary for its mining business, with a view to let EDF and foreign investors take a stake, but no deal was concluded and Areva remains the sole owner of the business.
The source also confirmed French press reports that Areva planned an additional one billion euros in cost cuts over the next three years. He said this would include cuts in staff costs, savings on purchasing and lower investments.
Areva employs 45,000 people, of which 65 percent are in France.
The move to a holding-company-style structure and the entry of EDF could herald a change to Areva’s long-held business model of an integrated nuclear group offering a range of services to utilities from nuclear fuel to reactors and recycling.
But a Paris-based analyst said Areva might have few other options, as the cash-strapped French state is not eager to inject new funds. Legal uncertainty about damages claims between Areva and its Finnish customer Teollisuuden Voima make it very hard to value the stock and raise new capital, the analyst said.
The Finnish nuclear group has made a 1.8 billion euro ($2.06 billion) claim against Areva over delays and cost overruns at the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear plant.
The Areva-led consortium has made a 2.7 billion euro compensation claim against Teollisuuden Voima, owned by Finnish firms including Fortum, UPM-Kymmene and Stora Enso, with the International Chamber of Commerce’s arbitration court.
Areva, which has a market value of 3.7 billion euros, warned on Monday it would book major new writedowns and provisions in its 2014 results. ($1 = 0.8744 euros) (Additional reporting by Matthieu Protard and Geert De Clercq; writing by Geert De Clercq, editing by David Evans and Jane Merriman)