PARIS — French nuclear giant Areva is suspending uranium production at two plants because of low demand from Japanese power stations in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Production at subsidiary Comhurex's Malvesi and Tricastin sites will be suspended for two months because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan and swamped a nuclear site six months ago, the spokeswoman said.
"This decision is based on the events in Japan, which today has led to a drop in deliveries to Japanese power producers and short term downward pressure on prices in this market," Areva said in a statement.
"A certain number of orders placed by the Japanese have been cancelled," Areva chief executive Luc Oursel told AFP from New York.
Comurhex, which is 100 percent owned by Areva, uses a two-stage process to transform mined uranium into uranium hexafluoride, the raw material for the enrichment process that eventually produces reactor-grade fuel.
Areva said there were no plans to suspend or lay off the less than 600 workers from the plants, who will be asked to attend training sessions or use up holiday allowances while their plants are taken off-line.
Before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami -- and the ensuing disaster at the flooded Fukushima Daiichi power plant -- Japan was planning to use nuclear power to generate around 50 percent of its energy needs by 2030.
But opinion shifted after the disaster crippled the plant's cooling systems, sparking reactor meltdowns that spewed radiation into the environment, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate from a 20 kilometre (12 mile) radius.
A number of other plants were shut down following the Fukushima accident and currently on 11 of 54 are currently operating.
"You have seen that Japan is in a particular situation as a certain number of plants have stopped" but "I think that... most of them will be restarted and will allow us to reestablish normal commercial relations," said Oursel.
On Tuesday, Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged to draw up a new energy policy and to reduce Japan's reliance on atomic power, threatening a major export market for France's world-leading nuclear industry.
However, he did not rule out future use of nuclear power -- something his unpopular predecessor Naoto Kan had aimed to do -- and said reactors that are currently offline for maintenance would be restarted.
Some other countries have re-examined their nuclear policies in the wake of the Japanese disaster, but France -- which relies on atomic energy for 75 percent of its power -- has vowed to stick by and support the industry.
Areva is majority state-owned and Paris has long considered nuclear power a strategic asset, despite power shortages last winter caused by labour disputes and delayed refuelling in some power stations.
On Monday, an explosion at nuclear waste reprocessing site in southern France killed one worker and injured four more, but regulators said there was no danger of a radiation leak and the area was declared safe within hours.