France hopes to boost its nuclear industry with a biennial exhibition modeled on the Paris Air Show, although it does not expect reactor orders to pile up as fast as airplane contracts.
To be held in the same Le Bourget venue as the airshow, the October 14-16 World Nuclear Exhibition (WNE) expects some 7,000 visitors will visit stands representing nearly 500 French and foreign nuclear industry companies, the organisers said on Thursday.
"Obviously, it would be an illusion to expect to sign as many nuclear reactor contracts there as the airline industry does at the airshow," WNE chief Gerard Kottmann told reporters.
At the 2013 Paris Air Show, plane makers Airbus and Boeing together took orders and commitments worth $135 billion, of which $84 billion were firm orders and more than $50 billion provisional orders for new planes.
The average price of a modern passenger jet is around $150 million. A nuclear plant can cost up to $8 billion.
Kottmann, also head of the AIFEN French nuclear export industry association and chief executive of nuclear industry supplier Valinox, said he hoped that the conference would lead to numerous contracts for small and medium-sized companies in the French nuclear industry.
"The big names of the industry do not need the WNE, but we hope for many contracts in the 50,000 to 100,000 euro range," he said.
France has a large nuclear sector with more than 2,500 companies with a combined revenue of 46 billion euros and staff of 220,000, making anything from nuclear reactors to nuclear measuring tools and specialist piping for reactor vessels.
Kottmann said the conference would receive no public money and would be financed by Reed Expositions, which won a tender to organise the event.
Global players such as Mitsubishi Heavy, Toshiba Corp's Westinghouse, GE Hitachi and Russia's Rosatom are expected at the exhibition and talks are ongoing with Chinese nuclear firms CGN and CNNC.
French state nuclear agency CEA Director Bernard Bigot told reporters a French nuclear conference was long overdue.
"The Russians have had a forum like this for many years. It was not normal that France, which has a strong nuclear industry, did not have such an event," he said.
Russia's annual Atomexpo is one of the top events for the global nuclear industry.
"France cannot sustain its national nuclear industry unless it has good access to export markets," Bigot said.
Areva is building three of its new-generation EPR reactors abroad - two in China, one in Finland - but the state-owned firm has not signed a new nuclear reactor building contract since 2007. Its hopes of selling 10 more EPRs by 2016 so far have not materialised.
Bigot said that as more countries try to reduce their reliance on fossil fuel and energy demand is growing worldwide, he sees good opportunities to sell French nuclear plants abroad.
As of the end April, there were 434 nuclear reactors in operation globally, producing 11 percent of the world's electricity, with another 72 under construction, mainly in China and Russia.
The International Atomic Energy Agency expects that by 2030 some 287 new reactors will bring the total to 722.
(Additional reporting by Benjamin Mallet; editing by Jason Neely)