Potential investment by the mainland's nuclear power firms in nuclear technology major Areva would help shore up the French firm's finances, while opening the door for possible access to French proprietary reactor design technology. If an investment-for-technology deal was struck, it could bolster the Chinese companies' credibility when selling mainland-made reactors overseas, but it might expose them to Areva's steep losses, analysts said. "What the Chinese want most is access to knowledge in third-generation reactor design and construction that the French have not transferred to China," Sanford C. Bernstein senior analyst Jay Huang told the South China Morning Post . "In contrast, the United States' Westinghouse has passed on its third-generation technology to China." Mainland firms would also be keen to buy into Areva's lucrative reactor maintenance business, he added. Westinghouse in mid-2007 signed a US$8 billion deal to sell four reactors to state-owned nuclear power operators China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC). Areva sealed a few months later an €8 billion contract to build two reactors for CNNC's rival China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). Areva has attracted the interest of CNNC, CGN and power generation equipment maker Dongfang Electric to consider buying a stake of less than 10 per cent in Areva and form joint ventures, French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche reported on Sunday, without citing anyone. Dongfang was eyeing possibilities to form joint ventures with Areva involving its plants manufacturing nuclear materials tanks and generators, it added. CNNC and Areva would not comment. CGN's spokesman could not be reached. Dongfang's company secretary Gong Dan told the Post that the Sichuan-based firm had long-standing cooperation with Areva on the mainland, and did not rule out "deepening cooperation with Areva globally". Wang Biao, dean of the Sino-French Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Technology of Sun Yat-sen University, told the Post it made sense for mainland firms to buy stakes in Areva or its reactors and components plants, since China was one of the firm's biggest customers. Areva last year had a net loss of €4.83 billion, after it booked costs related to construction delays of reactors using its third-generation technology, particularly the Olkiluoto 3 plant in Finland. The project's start-up date has been pushed back to the end of 2018, nearly a decade later than the original target. Areva has been mired in losses since 2011, and aims to achieve profit margins "comparable" to its global rivals within three years. It has cut capital expenditure, and said it will step up sales of non-strategic assets and form "partnerships with an equity component". Ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Areva's debt to junk status last November. French President Francois Hollande said he had asked Areva and its top customer, French state-owned EDF, to develop closer ties. Areva chief executive Philippe Knoche said it had held talks with EDF about EDF taking a stake in Areva.