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EDF Denies U.K. Nuclear Deal to Be Sealed in ‘Smoke-Filled Room’

Electricite de France SA rejected criticism that its one-to-one talks with the U.K. over the deal it’ll get to build nuclear plants in the country means officials setting rates in a “smoke-filled room” without open scrutiny.

“It’s not a dark and smoke-filled room,” Chief Executive Officer Vincent de Rivaz told British lawmakers today in London. “Smoking is forbidden and the light is on. We’re in the process of cost discovery, which will be totally transparent. We know that it has to be auditable, that we need to face the scrutiny of parliament and the public, and we are ready for that.”

EDF is the main company negotiating with the government on a strike, or guaranteed, price for atomic power after utilities SSE Plc, RWE AG and EON AG gave up building nuclear plants from September 2011. Bilateral talks between the French supplier and the U.K. have been criticized by SSE Chief Executive Officer Ian Marchant as taking place over “champagne and croissants.”

Energy Secretary Ed Davey will set final proposals before lawmakers next month to overhaul the market including plans for so-called contracts for difference guaranteeing power prices. A law, published in draft form in May, plans to curb the risk of building reactors and renewable-energy projects as Britain seeks about 110 billion pounds ($175 billion) of investment for grid upgrades and to replace aging power stations by 2020.

EDF, Europe’s biggest utility, GDF Suez SA and Iberdrola SA of Spain gave evidence to parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee as U.K. atomic plans were set back this month by Areva SA’s decision to halt a bid for Britain’s Horizon atomic venture with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co. The venture, with state backing to build plants, is being sold by RWE and EON.

‘Optimal Solution’

De Rivaz said the U.K. offered the “optimal solution” to fund nuclear and affirmed the company’s plans to finish a final investment decision on its Hinkley Point project in Somerset by the year-end. EDF won’t expose consumers to risks in building the reactor, he said. “We’re not asking consumers to take the construction risks,” the CEO said. “Never have we been asked for the construction risk, for instance, to be taken within the contracts for difference by the consumers. It is not our plan.”

The company may look later at a 40 billion-pound Treasury loan-guarantee program announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in July to spur spending on U.K. infrastructure projects and exports, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, managing director for EDF’s nuclear new build, said at the same hearing.

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